Eastern Long Island's weekly newspapers have joined together to form the East End News Project for the purpose of reporting and writing stories about one of the most important issues of the day: opioid abuse and overdose deaths in our communities.
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The Independent will team up with Times Review Media Group's three newspapers (the Shelter Island Reporter, The Suffolk Times, and the Riverhead News Review), The Press News Group (The Southampton Press, The East Hampton Press, and 27east.com), and The Sag Harbor Express to begin jointly reporting on this critical issue.
The facts of the overdose crisis are stark and frightening: Suffolk County has the highest rate of overdose deaths in New York State. Almost 500 people died from opioid overdoses in Nassau and Suffolk counties in 2016, the most ever. The drug fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than morphine, was a culprit in many of those deaths.
In June of this year, the Suffolk County police commissioner held a press conference to report that there had been 22 opioid-related overdoses within a 48-hour period. These overdoses and overdose deaths have affected every community in Suffolk County -- including the five East End towns, villages, and hamlets.
We have not escaped this scourge. The menace is here. And it is getting worse. A recent forum on the issue at Hampton Bays High School filled the auditorium. One speaker said she was on a train when her son called to tell her that her other son was dead from an overdose. Southampton Police Chief Steven Skrynecki told the crowd that there were five overdose deaths in the town in 2016; there had been 17 up to that point so far in 2017.
For our project to work, we need your help. We need people who have beaten addiction, families who have lost loved ones, families who have saved loved ones, first responders, treatment specialists, and others to tell us their stories. We will respect everyone's privacy, but we firmly believe that powerful voices and stories, with photographs and videos, can best communicate the horrible reality -- and save lives.
If you can help us with our work, here is our contact information:
Kitty Merrill, executive editor
Joseph Shaw, executive editor
631-287-1500, ext. 125
The Sag Harbor Express
Kathryn Menu, editor/co-publisher
Stephen J. Kotz, news editor
Times Review Media Group
Steve Wick, executive editor
Joe Werkmeister, editor
Taylor Vecsey, web editor