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The pandemic tears at the social fabric: Overdoses, domestic abuse/violence trending upward

During the pandemic year of 2020, the number of overdoses from opiates and alcohol reported to the Shelter Island Police Department was seven, up by five from the year before.

And there was a steeper rise in domestic abuse/violence calls to the police.

The seven calls by people needing immediate medical assistance connected to drugs and alcohol last year was the same as in 2017 and 2015, according to police records. The lowest number of reported overdoses in the past seven years was in 2016, when there were only two calls for assistance.

Narcan, used by Shelter Island first responders as an anti-overdose medication administered as a nasal inhaler, is something of a miracle drug, bringing people back from the brink of an opioid-induced oblivion in a matter of seconds.

Shelter Island’s Emergency Medical Services were in the vanguard of using Narcan, becoming part of a pilot program run by New York State six years ago. The effectiveness of inter-nasal Narcan has proved to be “remarkably successful,” said Robert Delagi, who ran the pilot program for the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.

Last year, according to Police Department records, the anti-overdose medication was administered five times on the Island, the most since 2015, when it was also administered five times.

Veteran Island EMT Mark Kanarvogel said he personally didn’t see much of a rise in calls for people in distress due to opioids or alcohol in 2020. But he noted that, when listening to a scanner for emergency calls, he’s been struck by the number of calls for domestic abuse and/or violence here and to agencies on the North and South forks.

Called “the pandemic within the pandemic” by social workers, the Island has had its distressing share of calls for abuse. As reported last month by the Reporter, police departments, shelters and advocates, reporting a spike in cases, said that the pandemic and the increase in spousal abuse and violence cannot be separated.The East End and Shelter Island haven’t been spared the emotional misery and physical dangers.

According to the Shelter Island Police Department, officers made 39 calls relating to domestic abuse from Jan. 1 to Nov. 30 in 2020, compared with 13 for 2019 and 13 in 2018 for the same periods. Statistics from the Police Department show that from Jan. 1 to May 18 last year, officers responded to 15 calls for domestic abuse; so, during the following six months, calls more than doubled.

What the police call “mental health transports” — some stemming from family abuse incidents — to Stony Brook University Hospital numbered 20 from Jan. 1 to Nov. 30, 2020, while the same transports for the previous two years were four each.

“The stressors of COVID-19 and its relationship to other community concerns are considerable,” Police Chief Jim Read said. “In some of the cases, it’s hard to draw a direct connection to COVID-19, but when you look at the totals for the year to date and compare them to prior years, it would be hard to deny that there is some direct correlation.”