This Monday marked the 20th anniversary of International Overdose Awareness Day, and the official kick-off of September being the Town of Islip’s Recovery Awareness Month.
On the steps of Islip Town Hall, Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter and members of the Town Board announced the month-long initiative as an effort to shed light on opioid and heroin addiction and overdose on Long Island.
Throughout the town, Carpenter said residents may notice purple flags hanging from flagpoles around the town. Carpenter, as well as others attending the announcement, wore purple to raise awareness of the widespread issue.
Sept. 1 will be the town’s second annual “Islip Goes Purple” event, which will signal the start of Recovery Awareness Month.
“The coronavirus and opioid crisis have converged and overdose fatalities that have fallen in recent years have seemed to head back to all-time highs,” Carpenter said.
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According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2019 there were over 70,980 opioid and heroin overdose deaths, which is a 5% jump.
The Overdose Protection Mapping Application Program collected real-time data that found overdoses rising approximately 18% following New York’s state-at-home order in March.
16% of counties nationwide, including Suffolk and Nassau, found increases as well.
Suffolk County’s preliminary data released in May, Carpenter said, found a 40% increase in fatal overdoses, around 80 deaths reported in 2019.
“This is staggering numbers, and really frightening,” Carpenter said.
Local reports indicate that towns like Islip and Brookhaven in Suffolk County are considered “hot spots.”
Islip Goes Purple is about supporting individuals who are struggling with addiction, their families, and those who have lost a loved one to substance abuse.
“It’s about showing love, compassion, and support,” she said. “It’s also about knowing that becoming clean is possible.”
Kathy Koenigsdorf, CEO of the Jake K Foundation and member of the Opioid Task Force, spoke about the importance of recognizing International Overdose Awareness day.
Koenigsdorf encouraged others to take the time on this day to acknowledge those who have been impacted by addiction and the estimated 200 people a day who die of an overdose.
“To some, it is just Aug. 31, to some, today reminds them of what took the life of their precious loved one,” Koenigsdorf said. “To some, it is a reminder of the trauma they faced when they found someone unresponsive and the crippling fear they faced of not knowing how they could help, to some this is a reminder of how substance abuse almost cost them their lives.”
She said Islip Goes Purple is the “only positive initiative” that she has seen in the seven years she has been involved in these efforts.
“September is a positive month after we acknowledge the loss and the struggle today, tomorrow starts the positivity,” Koenigsdorf said. “We can all come together because where there is breath, there is hope.”
COVID-19 has created unique challenges for those like Koenigsdorf bringing awareness to this crisis and she said the government separation protocols during the pandemic have left negative impacts on those suffering from addiction.
“That is a fatal directive to those in recovery, without providing other ways for those to connect immediately,” Koenigsdorf said. “In my world, it shouldn’t have been social distancing, it should have been physical distancing with social connection — they recover together.”
The commonality between the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic and substance abuse disorder is the anxiety and fear that comes with both, Koenigsdorf said.
“It’s been crippling for everybody, and it is one thing that we can all stand united as to the fears are astronomical,” she said.
She shared her own personal experience of losing her son, Jake, who is the catalyst of Koenigsdorf’s efforts of helping and offering support for those suffering from addiction.
“What we can acknowledge, we can change — I will always say my child’s name: Jake Koenigsdorf died at 21 years old from a heroin overdose in 2013, but in light of that, I’ve always tried to find an opportunity that comes from any crisis,” she said. “Maybe we will have a better understanding for the need for human connection that will inspire great acts of humanity.”
MaryAnn Pfeiffer, CEO of Youth Enrichment Services, showed off her purple “Islip Strong” mask and talked about how it symbolizes Islip’s efforts during the pandemic, as well as in this fight against the opioid and heroin epidemic.
Pfeiffer said Carpenter approached her a couple of years ago about the initiative and creating the Opioid Task Force.
“We had experienced so much loss with YES, losing young people, including staff members, she said we wanted to put together a little task force and you should put that together,” Pfeiffer said. “
The taskforce looks at not only the significant increase of opioid use and heroin overdoses, but all issues ranging from the legalization of marijuana, other drug use, alcohol, and more.
“We are recognizing that our community is lost, so that is a somber event, but I wore the purple to kick off tomorrow with the hope and the recovery because there is hope, people do recover,” Pfeiffer said.
Councilwoman Mary Kate Mullen, the Town Board’s liaison with the Opioid taskforce, has held the position for the past two years.
“We started last year, and the idea was to build on it,” she said. “It’s our way of showing everyone, don’t be ashamed, it’s okay, we can talk about it, and bring acceptance to the forefront.”
Mullen is hopeful that Islip will lead the way in the entire island going purple.
“Islip, we are leading the other towns, and I hope next year, the other towns join us in going purple, and before long, all of Long Island will be purple for the month of September to bring awareness to substance abuse,” she said.
Tonight is the premiere of the first video of a month-long series throughout September Recovery Month on the town’s YouTube channel. See video below.
Visit their website and government access channels for September for more programming.
“We are one Islip, we are one family, and there is strength in numbers, and very important to remember that healing and recovery are possible,” Carpenter said. “We need to be there for one another and like everything else, we will get through this.”
Scroll down for more pics of the event.