Robert Fox, 67, Cutchogue
“None of us expected to be here. And the stories are so similar. My anger is with the pharmaceuticals 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 left over. 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.”
Erick Saldivar, 23, Southampton
“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."
Danielle Alberti, 23, Hampton Bays
“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 live 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.”
Drew Scott, 70, Westhampton
“What I want to do now is tell [Hallie Ray 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.
Jessica Wild, 31, Deer Park
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 wake-up 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.”
Karl Hanyo, 53, East Quogue
“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.”
Kathleen McCabe, 58, Hampton Bays
“I am a widow from an opioid overdose. My husband’s name is Paul Gioia. 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 Feb. 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.”
Marion Locicero, 49, Riverhead
“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.”
Debbie Wittich, 55, Westhampton Beach
“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.”
Sara Fox, 30, Brooklyn
“My dad and I came for my brother, Kyle Fox, who died Sept. 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.”
Robert Chaloner, 60, chief administrative officer, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital
“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. ... 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.”
Heather Stefanidis, 43, Manorville with Taylor Stefanidis, 23, Brooklyn; Olivia Gorwitz, 11, Bayport
“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.”
Wayne T. Duncan, 60, Sag Harbor and the Shinnecock Indian Reservation
“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.”
Don Williams Jr., 59, Sachem and the Shinnecock Indian Nation
“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.”
Alfredo Merat, 58, Springs
“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.”