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May 14, 2018 4:48 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Participants In Saturday's Vigil For Victims Of Opioid Abuse Talk About Their Reasons For Being There

Alexander Holt
May 17, 2018 1:14 PM

“My sister suffered from mental illness and substance abuse for a long, long time. The day she passed away, she overdosed and, since then, I’ve lived my life with extra special meaning. She was 21 when she died. She was my older sister, and there were so many things she didn’t get a chance to do, that I would like to do for her.

“Both me and her were very shy. In social situations, like in high school, I think [drugs] helped her open up a little bit and have an easier time making friends. I think that’s how she got involved with the wrong crowd. She had been using drugs for about five or six years. She was drinking, using pills and smoking marijuana. From what I understand, cold tablets mixed with drinking alcohol was what the overdose was from.”

Danielle Alberti

23

Hampton Bays



“I want my son [Henry] to be remembered. He helped a lot of people when he was clean. He passed away last summer, June 28.

“I go to counseling along with my youngest daughter. I came here to remember him and I asked all his friends to come and stand up with me, because they are all clean and sober recovering addicts.

“The other part of me didn’t want to come, because I feel like I don’t have any answers, and I feel like I didn’t do anything right or he would be here. All day, I didn’t want to come, because I didn’t want to walk through the pain, but I’m afraid I’m going to forget one little thing about him—and I didn’t want to forget any of it, because he was a brilliant, great kid.

“He was 25 when he died. He left behind siblings: Emily, Ava and Tommy.”

Debbie Wittich

55

Westhampton Beach



“One of my best friends overdosed, and another one of my best friends just celebrated six months clean, and I did it all for her. My friend died in 2011, and I didn’t know until about two years later how much it affected me. My other best friend chose heroin over me, and that really hurt. So I decided to become a counselor to help her. She told me she would have relapsed already if it weren’t for me, and that really means a lot.

“My number-one fear was my best friend dying, another of my friends dying. And, as of tonight, I can say that she’s alive.”

Erick Saldivar

23

Southampton



“I’m a Cherokee Indian. Put that down—that’s important. I’m the drum keeper of the Young Blood Drum Group. What brought me here tonight is, my nephew died from opioid poisoning, fentanyl. That was Lance’s son.

“We’ve been in this fight, man. … I never drank, never smoked, never took any drugs, and I’m 60. I’ve been fighting my whole life. I’m a straight-up warrior about trying to save young people, old people, just trying to bring people back to the real light. This is our community, the Earth. No BS-ing around. I’m a front-line warrior when it comes to drug addiction, alcohol abuse, just addiction in general.

“My son had issues in high school. He was an alcoholic. He’s totally sober now. He’s actually getting his doctorate in social work. That’s why I’m here.”

Wayne T. Duncan

60

Sag Harbor and the Shinnecock Indian Reservation



“I fought this addiction for years. I’m a disabled veteran. I lost my leg in the Marine Corps. And they just give you the pills. They were giving me 120 pills a month, and I got addicted and couldn’t get off them. It was a nightmare.

“There was a time when I didn’t want to keep going anymore, because it was horrible. Only someone who has been through it can know it. People who haven’t been through it don’t understand the addiction and how powerful it was.

“I was one of the lucky ones. I’ve been off it now for four years.”

Don Williams Jr.

59

Sachem

Shinnecock Indian Nation



“[I’m here for] my uncle, Richard McKibbon. He grew up in Suffolk, in Mastic, and he died almost a year ago this month. I came here with my mom, and close family, to feel the support of everyone here, just to be around people who feel the same way we feel. It’s unbelievable, and it’s not getting any better.”

Taylor Stefanidis

23

Brooklyn



“My boyfriend died. Taylor was his niece. We were together seven years, but it took its toll. He fought it like everyone else. He was in and out of rehab. He was trying, he was really trying. He was an awesome human being. He was an artist.”

Marion Locicero

49

Riverhead



“My dad and I came for my brother, Kyle Fox, who died September 6. I was super close to my brother. We lived together as adults. We lived together this past spring. He was literally my best friend. He was one of a kind, the nicest guy you’d ever meet.

“You never think it is going to happen to your family. We come from a middle-class home, we’re educated, and then it happens. I think he thought he was invincible … You wonder what more you could have done.”

Sara Fox

30

Brooklyn



“I think this is probably one of the most important public health crises we are facing right now. The number of lives that have been touched by the opioid epidemic is staggering, quite frankly. We see a tremendous number of people in our communities affected by it.

“What Supervisor [Jay] Schneiderman has done, in terms of creating the Opioid Task Force, is vital for maintaining awareness, keeping it at the forefront. Sometimes people don’t want to deal with the unpleasant things in life, and the best way to face them is to make sure that we not only are aware but understand, learn and mobilize, frankly, to fight this. I think it’s important that all the major institutions, including the hospital, participate and do everything we can to mobilize our resources to fight this.”

Robert S. Chaloner

60

Chief Administrative Officer

Stony Brook Southampton Hospital

East Hampton



“I’m here because I’m an addict in recovery myself. I’ve been working with many youngsters who are coming into Narcotics Anonymous and help them and help myself understand and learn a new way to live without using any kind of substances. I mean any kind of substances—not just drugs, but anything that has to do with my kind of compulsive attitude, obsession, with so many things. It can start with anything. Something happens, and you fall into something that can be so deadly.

“I paid tribute to a loved one, a musician who worked with me for the last 15 years, who passed in August from this deadly disease, and children of friends who have passed as well.”

Alfredo Merat

58

Springs



“Just to let everybody know that our loved ones, that we still think about them and we miss them. And to bring awareness of how lethal fentanyl is and what it’s doing to young men, really. I had no idea there were so many.

“People look at addicts as, like, just lower class. Not anymore. It’s not like that anymore. And I think that they need to treat them with respect. I think that’s one of the main problems that doesn’t let them recover—because they feel so below everyone else, because they get treated that way. If they are treated with more respect, even in the hospitals, or in rehabs, it would be a lot easier for them to get clean.”

Heather Stefanidis

43

Manorville

With Taylor Stefanidis, 23, Brooklyn, and Olivia Gorwitz, 11, Bayport



“To support my friends—that’s why I’m here. And just to get an eye-opening. Because I only have 42 days clean. And I’m so quick to always go back to that lifestyle. And it’s not good. ... I need a wakeup call, I really do. Because I’m going to die—I don’t want to die. And that’s the reality of addiction: You’re gonna die.

“If you don’t physically go through addiction, I don’t think you really get it. At the end of the day, unless you physically go through it, you don’t know. You don’t know what it’s like to be dope sick. You don’t what it’s like to ... get, just, the next fix. You’re so sick, and you just ... need it. It’s not that we want to do it. We just don’t want to be sick. And it’s just this constant vicious cycle that doesn’t end. It’s hard. It’s really hard. ... I never want to go back to it.”

Jessica Wild

31

Deer Park



“I’m here to help support this drug task force to help stop the stigma that’s behind drug users. It’s not the creepy guy in an alley. It’s people’s sons, daughters, husbands … there’s no bounds to it. It’s not talked about, and it needs to be. It needs to be brought out. Kids need to be educated on it.

“I’ve lost a lot of friends. I had talked to most of their families, and they would say they thought maybe the kid was using or was high or something, but they didn’t want to say anything, because they didn’t want to believe it.

“High school kids are dropping dead. I know of about 15 people who have died in the last few years. They are from Hampton Bays, Riverhead, all over. This is really happening, and a lot of people have been ignoring it. They don’t want to believe their children are on something, until it’s too late.”

Karl Hanyo

53

East Quogue



“I’m a CASAC alcohol and substance abuse counselor in training. I’m also a certified peer advocate and certified recovery coach. I was, or I am, a member of Narcotics Anonymous. I’m not anonymous, is the point.

“I am a widow from an opioid overdose. My husband’s name is Paul Gioia.

“I got married to Paul late in life—I met him when I was 36, and we got married about a year later. That man just adored me. He thought the sun rose and set on me. He used to call me ‘Honey Bee,’ and then on the day we got married he called me ‘Queen Bee’—‘Queen’ for short.

“We started using drugs, and it went from one Vicodin … when all was done and said, he was taking 30, 40 a day. And other drugs. He was gone from me a year before he actually overdosed. He was not the same man I married, and toward the end I intuitively knew there was no going back from this. He died February 29, 2008.

“For about two or three years, it felt like my heart was constricted. It physically hurt and I couldn’t catch my breath. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done to decide to live and get sober and stay sober. I joined Narcotics Anonymous, and I did what I had to do. Twelve-step programs are fabulous. It was my introduction to Spirit. It is my job to pay it forward—that is my 12th step. I bring the message to the addict who still suffers.

“I now look at it as a blessing, the fact that Paul was in my life. It was my opportunity to do this.”

Kathleen McCabe

58

Hampton Bays



Mr. O’Keeffe said he attended the vigil on Saturday night because he has lost nearly a dozen friends to opioids over the past couple of years. Mr. O’Keefe added that he is currently in recovery, and is confident he will beat his addiction.

Ian O’Keeffe

29

Riverhead



“None of us expected to be here. And the stories are so similar. My anger is with the pharmaceutical [companies], because they’ve known for many, many years what they were doing.

“As we stand here in the rain, I’m sure some of the CEOs of these pharmaceutical companies are in one of their six or seven or eight estates and counting their billions. This is what’s leftover--the sadness and grief.

“I’m still angry. I guess that’s a stage you go through. In my mind, [my son Kyle] was irreplaceable.”

Robert Fox

67

Cutchogue



“What I want to do now is tell [Hallie Rae Ulrich’s] story to so many others and get people to realize this is an illness. And the illness can be cured. It’s like cancer, heart disease or even diabetes.

“It doesn’t go away in seven days or 28 days. The insurance companies have to step up. We need more facilities to take care of the young people who are in this current epidemic. I really believe the numbers are terribly under-reported. We think 400 died in Suffolk this past year and 19 in the Town of Southampton. I think those numbers are very, very underreported.

“It really is a terrible epidemic and we’re losing a whole generation of people.”

Drew Scott

70

Westhampton

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Thanks for sharing your story,No input from Suffolk Co Dept Alcohol and Substance Abuse.This is the department funded by the tax payers of Suffolk Co I would be very interested to hear what services they are providing and the part they are playing in this so called battle against opioid addiction.
By watchdog1 (486), Southampton on May 18, 18 8:55 AM