Former Southampton Town Councilman Brad Bender acknowledged someone he knew, and stood patiently in line, waiting for his two minutes while listening to other members of the public speak inside Southampton High School last Wednesday night.
He leaned over to the microphone, faced the Southampton Town Opioid Addiction Task Force lined up in a long row before him, and spoke his own truth. Breaking his silence, the former lawmaker, who went to prison for dealing drugs, spoke about becoming addicted to narcotic painkillers by first taking them for back and rotator cuff problems.
It was a medically-induced drug addiction, something he took time to repeat twice, so everyone in the room would hear it, and understand.
His addiction began with a requirement by his insurance carrier that he take 12 weeks of a narcotic without success before they would authorize an MRI. It was a year and a half before he had surgery, and by that time, he was well-addicted.
“I had an unscrupulous doctor that over medicated me, manipulating my addiction to gain money from me. I shared my medication with a third party, a single third party, who then sold it, and I went to prison,” Bender said, commanding the mic for the task force’s latest community forum, “It Hits Home Part Two,” by sharing his story.
“It’s in the papers — you guys all know about it,” he said. “I can wear that on my sleeve now because it’s the truth. I don’t have to run now and hide from myself for what I did.”
Bender, a Democrat, served on the town board for almost two years before his arrest in 2015 for illegally distributing oxycodone as part of a drug ring run out of a Riverhead urgent care facility. He was sentenced to two years in federal prison, but was released after 10 months, according to published reports.
He said he spent 11 months in a residential drug abuse program, which enabled him to get six months off his sentence, three months in a halfway house, and then two months of home detention.
What was most disappointing was that after his indictment, he was abandoned by friends and colleagues. But when he showed up at a 12-step meeting in the basement of a church, he found he was not alone.
“The only people that came to me were the people in the basement of the church — the basement of the church,” he said, noting Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, then a Suffolk County legislator, also reached out to him in his time of need. “Thank you — you are a good man.”
Stepping away from his own experience, Bender questioned, “How often are we going to turn our backs on our sick and our dying? Why do you shut the door on the people that you love? Why do you close people out of your lives? Because they have an addiction or a problem?”
Bender offered that society should not shut people with addiction out of their lives, but instead talk to them and try to help them figure out how to get to a better stage in their life. For him, the reasoning behind why he became addicted to drugs was that he did not feel good about himself, and it took sharing his emotions with other addicts to help him overcome his feelings of powerlessness.
He has been clean for two and a half years.
Bender questioned whether prison was the right place for him, explaining it was his first run-in with the law, ever. All his pre-sentencing background investigation revealed was a ticket for a seatbelt.
“The prison is full of drugs and alcohol,” he said. “It’s not a safe place, the halfway house was across from Farragut Houses, the projects in Brooklyn, not a safe place. They are selling heroin down at the corner.”
All of it was a part of his journey since his indictment.
“So, these are the things that I had to overcome. These are the places that I went,” he said. “I’d have rather been at Seafield. I probably could have gotten the same treatment, and it would have cost you a lot less. Anyway, I am Brad Bender and I am a grateful, recovering addict, and thank you for letting me have my two minutes.”
Task force member Paul Gubista of the Long Island Center for Recovery, who is also a member of Narcotics Anonymous, noted the importance of 12-step programs like Narcotics Anonymous and pointed out that since the task force was put together last fall, there are two new open meetings, one in Hampton Bays and one in Southampton.
“I just wanted to let you know that Narcotics Anonymous works, I am a member for 21 years,” he said.
Schneiderman said the task force will sponsor a community vigil for victims of the opioid crisis on May 12 at Good Ground Park in Hampton Bays and urged the audience to spread the word.
“We have a lot of work still ahead of us, but progress is sometimes slow,” he said. “But I think that we understand that it takes a community to come together and develop solutions.”