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Jan 22, 2018 11:54 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Students Help Southampton Task Force Study Causes Of Opioid Crisis

Magdalena Schneiderman, a recent Southampton High School graduate, helps brainstorm ways to prevent opioid addiction. AMANDA BERNOCCO
Jan 24, 2018 11:40 AM

A lack of mental health resources. Boredom. Inadequate education strategies.

These are some of the reasons why high school students throughout Southampton Town say their peers are getting mixed up with drugs—including opioids.

The Southampton Town Opioid Task Force’s Education Committee met with about 30 teenagers at the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church of the Hamptons in Shinnecock Hills on January 17, hoping to get to the root of the problem of the region’s opioid epidemic.

According to Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, there were 17 opioid-related deaths townwide last year, compared to five in the previous year.

Mariana Bello, a 17-year-old who attends Southampton High School, said she could have easily turned to drugs when she recently immigrated from Portugal. The transition to life in America was tough, and it was even tougher trying to find her place in a small school where everyone already knew each other.

But she had the support to persevere. She didn’t look for drugs. “Instead, I looked for love,” she said.

Mariana said she found support in her new friends, and an attentive staff at the school, including Richard “Juni” Wingfield, a district-community liaison in the Southampton School District who was also at the task force meeting with the students.

The agenda for the night included short testimonials from two local men about their road to recovery from opioid addiction. Both of the men—who asked not to be identified—found recovery though Narcotics Anonymous, a nonprofit organization that offers support to men and women recovering from addiction. The group utilizes a 12-Step program similar to the one used by Alcoholics Anonymous to help addicts find their way to recovery.

While both men had a unique story detailing their past with opioids, their paths had quite a number of similarities: Both used drugs as a coping mechanism, both struggled for years before finding the help they needed, and both said they were immensely grateful for finding recovery.

One of the men, who said he overdosed nine times before he stopped using drugs, described his journey as “ugly” and “painful.” But that part of his life is, finally, over, he said.

“I’m alive …” he said. “My life is pretty good now, and I owe it all to Narcotics Anonymous.”

As the stories from the two men settled in the minds of the teens at the forum, the students were asked to conduct an interactive activity to help members of the task force work to get to the root of the drug problem.

Around the room, large pieces of yellow paper sat on tables with questions for the students to answer. The questions ranged from asking what unconditional love means to them, to how the dialogue around substance abuse can be changed, to how they would personally handle the problem.

Students had a few suggestions about how to solve the issue of substance abuse, scribbled on a yellow poster with Crayola markers. “Provide better ways to cope with struggles than drugs and alcohol,” one group of students wrote. “Coming up with better things to do in the community (go-karting, laser tag, mini golf [inside], roller skating—with weekend deals),” another read. And, “Educate kids at a young age. Including elementary school and middle school.”

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When my car breaks down, I always consult a 3rd grade art student who gives great tips like “learn to ride a bike.”

You know, there are professionals with degrees and actual life experience who have made informed recommendations as to how to combat the opioid epidemic. First and foremost is legalizing marijuana and ending the war on drugs. We even have an ex-con board member with great insight who I’m sure would be willing to offer up solutions.

But it’s ...more
By Brandon Quinn (174), Hampton Bays on Jan 23, 18 1:33 PM
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