Editorial: Raising awareness about opioids

In late January 2016, The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review published an in-depth look at the growing heroin epidemic on the North Fork. The article told the story of Paul Maffetone of Laurel, whose brother Michael died at age 29, and his efforts to raise awareness about the troubling expansion in abuse of heroin and opioid drugs. 

At the time, the even more dangerous painkiller Fentanyl hadn’t yet become a topic of concern. And public awareness of Narcan, a life-saving drug that can be administered to someone who has overdosed, was just beginning.

Now, nearly two years later, it’s clear that the opioid epidemic has only continued to worsen — and the East End of Long Island hasn’t been spared. That’s why, this week, we announced a partnership with newspapers on the South Fork to further explore the effect of the opioid epidemic. We will publish the results of our joint investigation in 2018.

It’s a collaboration unlike anything we’ve done in the past. And we hope that by combining resources with the talented journalists at The Press Newsgroup, Sag Harbor Express and The Independent, we can tackle this issue from a regional perspective.

The goal is to help bring addiction out of the shadows. As Mr. Maffetone said in 2016: “There’s a stigma attached to heroin. There’s no doubt about it. We need to break that down.”

That stigma undoubtedly still exists.

We hope to share the stories of people who have been personally affected by this disease, to remember those who have died and to understand how the family members left behind cope with the pain. We hope to describe the struggle that addicts face day-by-day and hour-by-hour.

The effects are undoubtedly felt by many others as well. There are, for example, the police officers and paramedics who are the first to respond to overdoses and who are tasked with the overwhelming job of keeping drugs out of the community. There are the medical professionals who must confront the role prescription painkillers have played in the epidemic’s growth. There are the educators who need to keep a watchful eye in schools. And then there’s the problem of inadequate treatment options on the East End, which demands more discussion.

There is hope. People can beat addiction. But they need support.

Our goal is to give them a voice.

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