Editorial: These massive numbers should anger everyone

From 2006 to 2012, manufacturers shipped 76 billion opioid pills to pharmacies nationwide. More than 3.3 billion were shipped to New York State during that period. Of that total, 345 million pills were sent to Suffolk County.

These astonishing numbers come from the federal government and were published this month in The Washington Post. The numbers show that, in that period, manufacturers were shipping the equivalent of 36 oxycodone and hydrocodone pills per person per year nationwide. In Suffolk County, it breaks down to 33 pills per man, woman and child per year.

Court filings in different jurisdictions in America have shown that the manufacturers and distributors knew full well what they were doing, and knew the consequences of flooding the country with highly dangerous pain pills. They didn’t care. That is the only conclusion that can be drawn. They put massive profits before people — in spite of the horrific death toll.

During that 2006-2012 period, there were 100,000 overdose deaths nationwide. Jump ahead to 2017, the data shows there were 47,000 deaths nationwide in that one year.

In Suffolk in 2017, there were 424 overdose deaths. A Newsday story published earlier this month showed that 147 people died in Nassau County as a result of overdose in 2018; Suffolk reported 308 fatal overdoses in 2018. Newsday’s reporting showed that the Suffolk figures do not include 91 suspected overdose deaths in 2018 that have yet to be classified as such by the medical examiner’s office.

We have asked Suffolk health department officials to break down the death numbers by town and hamlet, but they have declined, citing privacy reasons. We didn’t ask for names, we asked for data so that our readers could know the death toll in our towns and hamlets. We have reported on a number of deaths in our newspapers, as have the other East End weeklies that are part of the East End News Project, which was formed to report on the opioid epidemic.

Overdose deaths on Long Island are falling, in large part because of the use of Narcan by first responders. As our first responders here in Riverhead and Southold well know, they have administered Narcan multiple times to the same person — possibly saving that person’s life each time. In Cutchogue, earlier this summer, first responders went to the same house twice in the same day.

The opioid epidemic is one of the most serious and heartbreaking stories in recent memory. It has touched so many families in our area. Many families here have buried a child, only to watch another of their children battle the same addiction.

We know of families whose children have been removed from the household because of a parent’s addiction problems. This of course makes the massive amount of pills manufactured and distributed all the more obscene. Court proceedings around the country to hold the manufacturers and distributors accountable for their role in this epidemic are thoroughly justified.

We will continue to report on and publish stories about this epidemic.

On another note…

A man called our newsroom last week to angrily — and anonymously — complain about the story in the Riverhead News-Review about a candlelight vigil in Riverhead on behalf of the immigrant community. The conversation went like this:

“I don’t like that story. Those people are here illegally. You should not cover them. You are nothing but a liberal rag. I wouldn’t let my dog defecate on your newspaper.” Click.

To the man who called, we will cover stories that impact our communities — white communities, African-American communities and Latino communities. They are here, and we will do our best to cover them. That doesn’t make us a “liberal rag.” It makes us a newspaper trying to do the best it can.