HAUPPAUGE, NY — One hundred and seventy-five rocks were placed outside the Suffolk County Legislature in Hauppauge on Tuesday, marking the number of lives lost daily to the deadly drug, Fentanyl.

The poignant markers were plucked from a local beach and hand-painted purple in recognition of Fentanyl Awareness Day, which is marked by people who lost loved ones to the drug.

The odorless and tasteless pill, which can be colored purple, got its start in medicine treating severe, chronic pain. But in more recent years, it has evolved within the illicit drug trade, comprising six out of every 10 pills, authorities say.

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The United States Drug Enforcement Administration refers to the drug as the single deadliest drug threat the nation has ever encountered because it has claimed one life every eight and a half minutes.

Long Island Council on Drug Dependence Executive Director Steve Chassman in a news release noted that opioid overdose and fentanyl poisoning “are claiming more young lives than ever.”

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Lethal doses of fentanyl are in six out of 10 fake prescription pills seized by the DEA, Chassman said, adding, “It’s a mistake no child or family can afford to make.”

Chassman was one of several treatment professionals to speak about fentanyl’s spread in the community, explaining how it can be done in an innocuous fashion, according to a news release.

“As we approach end-of-year exams and young people start looking for non-prescription ‘study drugs’ the need to raise awareness among youth and their families of the imminent danger of this drug is critical,” he said. “They think they know what they are buying, but one mistake can kill them.”

Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC’s mortality rate data indicates over 107,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2022.

It’s estimated that 66.5 percent of the deaths involved synthetic opioids, primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl or fentanyl analogs.

Anthony Rizzuto, director of provider relations at Seafield Center, stated that in the over 20 years that he has been working in the addictions field, “one thing has become abundantly clear” and that is “for many of my patients, drugs and alcohol were never their primary problem; drugs and alcohol were the solution to their problem, or at least, what they thought was a solution.

“In many cases, undiagnosed and/or untreated mental health issues have caused these patients to turn to drinking or drugs to find relief,” he said. “With mental health issues at an all-time high today, more and more people are desperately looking for relief in a powder or pill. Unfortunately, they don’t know that more than 60 percent of pills and powders bought illicitly contain fentanyl and so they are at much greater risk than they realize.”

“We must do all we can to eliminate fentanyl,” he said. “However, at the same time, we must also address the underlying mental health issues.”

Legis. Kara Hahn, who organized the news conference, said that if there is one single message parents, educators, and others should hear, it’s that “fentanyl kills.”

“Talk to your children,” she said. “Make sure they understand that any illicit drug they buy on the Internet or the street could kill them.”

“Counterfeit drugs like Xanax and Adderall may look harmless, but often contain lethal doses of fentanyl,” Hahn added. “Unless a drug is prescribed by a licensed medical professional and dispensed by a legitimate pharmacy, you simply cannot know if it’s safe.”

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Hahn has sponsored several pieces of legislation designed to help reduce opioid deaths in Suffolk, including providing the county’s police officers responding to emergencies with the opiate overdose reversal drug, naloxone, and ensuring people revived by patrol officers would also receive information from the health department about treatment options.

In April, the Legislature approved a bill sponsored by Hahn that requires Naloxone kits to be available in county facilities wherever automated external defibrillators are currently deployed.

Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said, “Fentanyl is not just a drug that takes lives, it is a crisis that creates a nightmare for families and friends of those dying from this narcotic every day.”

“The Suffolk County Police Department will continue its relentless pursuit of dealers fueling addiction as well as selling fake pills to the unsuspecting,” he said.

Carole Trottere, who lost her son, Alex Sutton, to an overdose, called the number of people being poisoned by fentanyl is staggering and so is the heartbreak left behind.

“We are losing a generation of young people to fentanyl poisoning,” she said. “The national fentanyl crisis should be a top priority on every elected official’s agenda, yet it is not, except for a small handful of courageous leaders like our own Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn. We must end the stigma so many associate with these deaths of drug misuse and addiction. Only then will this country’s number one public health crisis be tackled the way it should – with everything a crisis of this magnitude demands.”

Legis. Leslie Kennedy called fentanyl “a deadly threat to our communities that, as the Suffolk County Police Department pointed out, compounds the preexisting problems of addiction and substance abuse, with many illicit substances made more lethal when laced with Fentanyl.”

“It is vital that we get the necessary state and federal dollars to combat addiction, support mental health, and save lives,” she said.

Legis. Manuel Esteban said, “Fentanyl is involved in more deaths of Americans under the age of 50 than any cause of death, including heart disease, cancer, homicide, and other accidents.”

Legislator Stephanie Bontempi added, “There is a growing body of evidence that addiction and mental illnesses are often co-occurring issues.

“When dealing with young people especially, we need to ensure that they are not suffering because of unrealistic expectations we may put on them; this is so often overlooked,” she said. “Not everyone has to go to college or be a superstar athlete.”

Legis. Sarah Anker, who chairs the Suffolk County Addiction Prevention and Support Advisory Panel, said she recognizes the magnitude of this crisis and the lives lost to fentanyl poisoning.”

“For this reason, I am so thankful for the tireless dedication of the local community leaders who continue to push for change and who have come together today to bring attention to this critical issue,” she added.

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