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Local tragedy inspires youth novel about opioid addiction

Against the backdrop of America’s opioid epidemic, Southold author Geoffrey Wells’ latest book, “Never Less,” addresses how children are affected by adult problems.

Mr. Wells will read from his new novel at Cutchogue New Suffolk Free Library at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 30. His reading will be followed by a discussion of the subject matter, led by harm reduction specialists Justine Briscoe of Seafield Comprehensive Inpatient/Outpatient Addiction Treatment and Dr. Carol Carter of Sunshine Prevention Center for Youth and Families.

“I confront this issue head on. I don’t pull the punches,” Mr. Wells said of his book, which was released in October.

Mr. Wells’ inspiration for his plot came in August 2021, when eight East End residents, including Shelter Islander Swainson Brown overdosed on fentanyl-laced cocaine in less than a week.

Six of those overdoses were fatal. The synthetic opioid, which is 50 times more powerful than heroin, is a cheap yet deadly substitute used by street-dealers to cut costs and has fueled the deadliness of the opioid crisis in recent years.

“Never Less” tells the story of Mindy and Pablo, North Fork middle-schoolers from very different backgrounds, both of whom face problems at home. Mindy’s family is wealthy and her father is addicted to painkillers. Pablo, from an immigrant family, is covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, yet his father is under constant threat of deportation.

The friends stumble across an old mill on Mattituck Inlet, which has become home to suspicious activity. With the help of an elderly mentor, Mindy and Pablo investigate the mill’s seedy past and present. When a scheme to “yank the safety net away from drug users by lacing recovery pills with fentanyl” is discovered, the pair sets out to stop it.

“I asked myself what a child must be thinking when a parent or other adult overdoses,” the author said in an interview last week. “I wanted the reader to see that, from the point of view of a child, this situation is very scary, especially if they don’t understand it.”

Mr. Wells’ story of friendship intends to spark conversations among young teens. The aim is to give middle- schoolers who may be affected by the difficult subject matter the language they need to talk about these issues — and help them understand that they are not alone.

“I wrote the novel to empower them,” he said. “I don’t want to pander to or patronize 12-year-olds. They want to know about these taboo topics, and I’ve worked with researchers to make sure I’m telling the story in the correct way to this age group.”

The event is free and open to all, but advance registration is required on the library website. All who attend will be entered for a chance to win a signed copy of “Never Less” or the grand prize: a framed print of the book’s cover along with a signed copy. Community service hours are also offered for those attending the library program.