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Addiction

The Three Village school district welcomed a new drug and alcohol counselor recently. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Donna Newman

At a recent meeting of the Three Village Drug & Alcohol Awareness Program — a support group that seeks to educate all and assist parents and family members of teens and young adults battling substance abuse —  I spoke with a young mother of elementary-school-age children. She was there to learn about this growing danger that has taken so many lives in Suffolk County. She is afraid for her children. They are growing up in a society where drug overdose deaths have become routine. She wants to protect her children from becoming victims of substance abuse.

This mom has been on a crusade to make parents aware of the dangers, knowing that this is a Three Village problem and it will take community awareness and extensive effort to combat it. So she speaks to parents of young children wherever she finds them to encourage them to be part of the solution. She told me the majority response from parents is: “Not my kid. She’s an A student.” Or, “Not my kid, he’s an athlete.” Or simply, “My child would never get involved in that.”

I’m here to tell you that you need to take your head out of the sand.

The significant drug problem at Ward Melville High School when my sons were in attendance in the 1990s was not publicly acknowledged by the school district — or anyone else other than the parents whose children “got into trouble.” Mine did not. They were honor grads, heavily involved in extracurricular activities.

However, in a conversation with one of my sons, years after graduation, I learned he had used drugs with some regularity while in high school. It turned out I had been one of those clueless parents. But I was one of the lucky ones.

Lucky, because back then, when a teenager bought marijuana, it was just pot. It was not the cannabis of today, which may be laced with illicit and scary drugs by dealers seeking to hook kids on stronger stuff. Lucky, because he did not have a propensity, and his “recreational” use never rose to the level of addiction.

Full disclosure: As a college student in the 1960s I experimented with marijuana as well. My equally clueless mother discovered a small baggie of weed in my room. She trashed it, never saying a word to me. In that era, just knowing she knew was enough to get me to stop.

The school district has finally acknowledged the fact that addiction is a disease requiring treatment, not a moral lapse requiring punishment.

According to “School district welcomes new drug and alcohol counselor” in the  July 20 edition of The Village Times Herald, the district has hired a substance abuse counselor. Heather Reilly, certified social worker, will be tasked with rotating through the secondary schools one day each week (including the Three Village Academy alternative high school program), providing substance abuse counseling, educating faculty about warning signs and drug lingo, and creating educational curriculum for sixth-graders in collaboration with elementary health teachers. She will also be available to work directly with families.

While this is a laudable first step, it’s not nearly enough. Change will not happen without a concerted community effort. Parents need to accept the fact that this is a real problem affecting Three Villagers across the cultural and economic spectrum. Yes, it could even be your child.

Folks must come to grips with the fact that chemical dependency is a potentially fatal illness and that 90 percent of sufferers go untreated. They need to acknowledge that kids who are addicted to alcohol and/or opioid drugs are not “bad” kids. They are youngsters whose brains are not fully developed, who made bad choices that led to a tragic outcome. It’s time for all of us to learn all we can about prevention and to come together to end this plague.

There’s a lot you can do. For starters, attend the monthly meetings at the Bates House in Setauket. Dates and times are listed on Facebook on the Three Village Drug & Alcohol Awareness Parent Group page — along with other helpful information. Learn when and how to begin to talk to your child about the dangers of alcohol and drugs and your family’s rules concerning underage drinking and substance abuse. A good place to begin is at New York State’s online site www.talk2prevent.ny.gov.

The next meeting at the Bates House, located at 1 Bates Road in Setauket, will be held Sept. 24 at 7 p.m.

Donna Newman, a freelance writer, is a former editor of The Village Times Herald.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker speaks during a press conference July 25 about creating a permanent panel to address the ever-growing opioid crisis. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Following another year of rising opioid use and overdoses, Suffolk County officials announced legislation that would create a new permanent advisory panel to try to address the issue.

“We have lost people from this [problem],” Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said during a July 25 press conference. “Children have died, adults have died and we’re here to do more.”

The panel would have 24 members, including representatives from health and science groups, members of law enforcement, hospital employees and individuals from the Legislature’s Committees on Health, Education and Human Services and would focus on prevention, education, law enforcement and drug rehabilitation across the county, Anker said. The panel is planned to be broken up into sub-committees, which would tackle a specific area.

“This is an issue that needs all hands on deck,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said. “We are not going to arrest ourselves out of this — this is a public health issue [of historic proportion], but law enforcement plays a critical role.”

Over 300 people from Suffolk County died from opioid-related overdosess in 2016, according to county medical examiner records. Sini said that in 2016, the police administered Narcan, a nasal spray used as emergency treatment to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, in Suffolk County over 700 times.

A 2010 bill saw the creation of a similar advisory panel with 13 members, many of whom are members of the new proposed panel. The original, impermanent panel ended five years ago, but had made 48 recommendations to the legislature focused mainly on prevention education, treatment and recovery. Two recommendations from this committee that were put in effect were the Ugly Truth videos shown in public schools, and countywide public Narcan training.

Though proud of the work they did on that panel, members agreed the situation has worsened since it was disbanded.

“[Seven] years ago we stood here and announced the initial panel — I had the privilege of co-chairing that group — a lot of the things we recommended actually happened, some things didn’t,” said Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, chief executive officer of the Family and Children’s Association. “Regardless, the problem hasn’t gotten any better, and in fact, it’s gotten progressively worse. Some of the gaps in prevention, access to treatment, recovery and law enforcement haven’t yet been filled. For us to have an ongoing opportunity to have a dialogue together — to brainstorm some new solution to disrupt the patterns here — is very, very valuable.”

On the education side, Islip School District Superintendent of Schools Susan Schnebel said at the press conference that education has to begin at a very young age.

“It’s important that schools take hold of what happens in the beginning,” she said. “That includes educating students at a very early age, educating the parents to know what’s there, what are the repercussions, what is the law. That needs to happen with a 5 or 6-year-old.”

Executive director of the North Shore Youth Council Janene Gentile, and member of the proposed panel, feels that the advisory panel is an important step. She said she hopes that it will be able to do more in helping prevent people, especially young people, from using opioids in the first place, and hopefully help those exiting rehab.

“Implementing a family component when they are in rehab is really crucial, while they are in rehab and when get out,” Gentile said. “There are other agencies like mine — 28 in Suffolk County. If we can reach out to them they can help with re-entry [into society]. They go on the outside and the triggers that started them on opioids are still there, and they need to have places where there are no drugs. We’ve gone through a lot, but we’ve got to do more — and prevention works.”

As the number of drug-related overdoses on the Long Island grows, one parent refuses to bury his head in the sand.

On the one-year anniversary of his son’s fatal heroin overdose, William Reitzig wasn’t in bed grieving. Instead, the Miller Place parent was on stage at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai asking hundreds of community members to hug one another.

“Hug your loved ones like I hugged my son every day … My hope is that you leave here today with the same mission as my wife and I — that with love and compassion, we have the power to overcome the perils of drug addiction.”

—Michael Reitzig

“Hug your loved ones like I hugged my son every day … don’t let a minute go by without saying ‘I love you,’” Reitzig said to a crowd of emotional parents, extended family members, friends and strangers. “My hope is that you leave here today with the same mission as my wife and I — that with love and compassion, we have the power to overcome the perils of drug addiction.”

That mission resonated throughout Hope Walk for Addiction, an April 22 fundraising event created by Reitzig and co-sponsored by Brookhaven Town and Hope House Ministries — a nonprofit based in Port Jefferson that supports people suffering the disease of addiction.

Reitzig, whose 25-year-old son Billy struggled for years with opioid pills and ultimately died after a one-time use of heroin last April, kickstarted “a war on addiction” by raising awareness, educating about addiction, raising money to help those struggling and unite the community.

“This is [really] for the community — it’s not about me, it’s not about my son, it’s to try and make a difference moving forward,” Reitzig said. “I can’t do anything about the past at this point, but going forward we can all chip in … we’re all in the same boat. Today is about all the families that struggle every day with this disease getting together because this is no longer acceptable and we need to do something.”

The large crowd, mostly loved ones of those battling addiction or those who died from it, collectively walked Cedar Beach’s Nature Pathway in memory of those who overdosed. About a dozen names could be seen on signs along the scenic trail.

“I don’t think people realize how many people are depressed and they don’t know how to handle that and so people self-medicate and that’s part of the issue. Ninety-one young people die every day [from this] and that’s unconscionable.”

—Francis Pizzarelli

Local leaders, self-help experts and bands occupied the stage to address the issue that brought everyone together. Various sponsors, including WALK 97.5 and St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, were set up at tables taking donations and educating others, and representatives from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office gave seminars on how to use Narcan, a life-saving nasal spray that can revert the effects of an overdose.

More than 500 people registered for the event, and all proceeds — totaling more than $34,000 at the end of the day — went to Hope House, which currently doesn’t have enough space for the overwhelming amount of people who need its services.

Father Francis Pizzarelli, founder of Hope House, counseled Billy while he was rehabilitating in the facility’s outpatient treatment program for a few months, and ultimately presided over his funeral.

Reitzig worked closely with Pizzarelli, and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), to make the Hope Walk a reality.

“Billy was a loving and caring guy, but like a lot of people today, he had his demons and struggled with that,” Pizzarelli said. “I don’t think people realize how many people are depressed and they don’t know how to handle that and so people self-medicate and that’s part of the issue. Ninety-one young people die every day [from this] and that’s unconscionable. [William] elected to say ‘we’re not going to let this continue, we’re going to do something about it and we’re going to protect the quality of life of all our younger and older people addicted to heroin.’”

This is a time to come together as a community, Pizzarelli added, and celebrate the hope Reitzig embodies.

“We need to help stop the stigmatized feeling that comes with addiction. The users feel alone as it is, they don’t feel proud of themselves. They are good people that made one bad decision.”

—Sue Meyers

“I don’t think I’ve met more resilient, strong, dedicated and passionate people in my whole life as I have in William and his family,” Bonner said. “He’s changing the future of so many people by doing this. We’re losing a generation to addiction and this is an opportunity to lift each other up and strip the layers of shame back. It’s all around us and no community is safe from it.”

Patty Eiserman, of Sound Beach, wore a shirt bearing the face of her nephew David Smallwood, who died in 2013 when he was just 22. She said her goal is to educate children as young as possible so they don’t start using.

“I don’t want to say it’s impossible to get them clean,” she said, “but it’s very, very hard.”

Manorville resident Melanie Ross, whose brother died last year after a 10-year battle with addiction, said the situation ravaged the family. It was the first time she’d attended an even like this.

Sue Meyers, a Setauket resident, said she was walking for her son, Michael Moschetto, a Ward Melville graduate who died in December at 28.

“It’s in his name, but I’m also here to help show support for other people and donate as much money as I have in my pockets,” Meyers said. “We need to help stop the stigmatized feeling that comes with addiction. The users feel alone as it is, they don’t feel proud of themselves. They are good people that made one bad decision. I think events like this really give people hope and a sense of direction.”

SCPD Commissioner Tim Sini speaks at Broohaven Town Hall during a crime awareness event. Photo by Kevin Redding

Drug addiction on the North Shore and across Suffolk County is a complicated problem, so the police department and the community are coming together to come up with strategies to combat it.

One of the reasons Salvatore Pitti, a retired New York City police officer, left the Big Apple to live on Long Island he said in part was to escape drug-related crime. But in recent years, he has seen what he called an alarming uptick in heroin and opioid-related overdoses and deaths in the suburbs — so he decided to do something about it.

“We need to put the fear of God into our kids about this problem.”

— Salvatore Pitti

“We need to put the fear of God into our kids about this problem,” Pitti said April 11 during a Crime Awareness Committee meeting at Brookhaven Town Hall. “I’ve had the misfortune, in my career, to scoop three or four children off the street, dead. I don’t want to see that.”

Pitti, vice president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and leader of a local neighborhood watch group designed to eliminate local criminal activity, co-sponsored the event along with Brookhaven Town.

Joined by several guest speakers including Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson) and Suffolk County Police Department Commissioner Tim Sini, Pitti spoke with local organization leaders and residents about how they can help make their communities safer.

Sini, who became commissioner last year, has already rolled out several initiatives through the SCPD to address the issues of illegal drug sales, abuse and overdoses as well as prevention and recovery in his short time leading the department.

Many of them rely on police department collaboration with the public.

“I can’t tell you the number of times that information from people in this room or from folks like you have helped us solve crimes,” Sini said, highlighting such programs as the NARC hotline, a partnership with Suffolk County Crime Stoppers, where callers can give crime tips anonymously and receive cash rewards for those that lead to arrests.

Another initiative, Sini said, is the Long Island Heroin Task Force, which targets drug dealers causing overdoses and the areas that have the biggest spikes in overdoses through data collected in the department. Programs are also being implemented in local schools that teach about the consequences of taking drugs, offer prevention and recovery steps, and even train parents and teens on how to administer Narcan, the nasal spray used to reverse heroin overdoses.

“We need to get people off drugs and into treatment for recovery,” Sini said. “Please think of ways the SCPD can partner with you to promote drug prevention in your community.”

Cartright said she understands the importance of a partnership with local law enforcement.

“I can’t tell you the number of times that information from people in this room or from folks like you have helped us solve crimes.”

— Tim Sini

“I grew up in Queens, in an urban community where there was a lot of crime, and there was no interaction with the police department the way we interact with the police department here,” the councilwoman said. “They come in and ask, ‘how can we work with you?’ That’s something, 25 years ago, I didn’t have when I was growing up. This is not a problem we can solve alone.”

Pitti said he started the Crime Awareness Committee three years ago to shine a spotlight on a local marijuana dealer in his neighborhood. Due to his effort and a collaboration with neighbors and the police, the dealer was ultimately pushed off the block.

Even though the group has since grown, he said he wants more community involvement.

“When I first started this, I received a civic email list but, unfortunately, it was antiquated and outdated,” he said. “We’re working together on it, to try and fix it and put more emails in. That, to me, is the first problem. If we can’t call each other, how can we help each other?”

He handed out a packet to attendees of the meeting outlining ways to identify dangerous people in the community. The packet gives details on how to check if houses in a neighborhood have rental permits; report town code violations; deter underage drinking at parties and neighborhood gatherings; and a detailed physical description form to fill out upon witnessing suspicious activity.

Present the above “coupon” to Buffalo Wild Wings in Miller Place March 10 to donate 10 percent of your total bill to On Kevin’s Wings. Image from Tracey Farell

On March 10, beginning at 11 a.m., Buffalo Wild Wings in Miller Place will be donating 10 percent of each patron’s bill to On Kevin’s Wings, a nonprofit organization that funds airfare or transportation for those seeking drug or alcohol rehabilitation away from home.

After losing her son Kevin to an accidental overdose in 2012, Tracey Farrell began North Shore Drug Awareness, a Facebook page that provides information and assistance to those asking questions wanting to learn more about how to help a loved one battling addiction or looking for rehabilitation centers.

Farrell began to try to help other families who were also dealing with addicted children, while still dealing with one of her own: her daughter. She sent Brianna out of state and claimed it saved her life.

This prompted her to begin her new venture.

In addition to the funds raised March 10, the location is then, for the following 30 days, donating the same 10 percent of each customer’s bill who presents the Home Team Advantage Teammate Card. It’s good for dining in and take out and  can be presented straight from a cellphone.

On March 10, On Kevin’s Wings will also be doing raffles and 50/50 from 6 to 9 p.m.

Buffalo Wild Wings in Miller Place is located at 385 Route 25A.

Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn and recovering alcoholic and addict David Scofield answer questions posed by concerned parents. Photo by Donna Newman

Heroin addiction can still be seen as a closely guarded secret in North Shore communities, but a couple of Three Village residents are doing their part to try to change that.

About 20 people were present Jan. 22 at the Bates House in Setauket for an informational meeting geared to help the loved ones of those battling heroin addiction. The addicts themselves were not present, but parents, grandparents, siblings, friends and other loved ones were, with the hope of gaining a greater understanding for how to combat the problem.

The gathering was a joint venture of both the public and private sectors, initiated by Lise Hintze, manager of the Bates House, a community venue in Frank Melville Memorial Park.

To help a loved one dealing with addiction call Lise Hintze 631-689-7054

“Pretending we don’t have a drug problem [in our community] only hurts the children and perpetuates the problem,” Hintze said. “I have a 19-year-old and a 21-year-old and we’ve been to too many funerals. Parents say ‘not my child, not in our town’ but it’s very real and it’s happening here.” 

Stony Brook resident Dori Scofield, who lost a son to heroin addiction in 2011, established Dan’s Foundation For Recovery in his memory to provide information and resources to others. Old Field resident Dana Miklos also has a son battling addiction and she wants to share what she has learned to empower parents and help them deal with addiction’s many challenges. The two represent the “private” interests.

“One of the reasons I wanted to come out and talk about it is to give parents ways to navigate through this horrible process,” Scofield said. “From being at the hospital when your son or daughter ODs and you know you have to get them into treatment, but you don’t know [how].”

Scofield said she dialed a 1-800 number someone had given her when her son overdosed and said she lucked out when the placement turned out to be a good one. She told the event attendees they need not “reach out to a stranger” as she did. She can help.

Miklos wants to eliminate the stigma that keeps affected families in hiding.

“I want parents to know the three Cs: they didn’t cause it, they can’t cure it, and they can’t control it,” she said. “We become so isolated [dealing with an addicted child] just when we should be talking to other parents, supporting each other.”   

Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who has been working to alleviate the community’s drug problem since taking office, also participated in the event.

“In 2012, the first year I was in office, I couldn’t believe this would be something I could work on and change,” Hahn said. “But I wrote legislation that got Narcan — which is an antidote for opioid overdoses — for our police sector cars. Within a matter of days we were saving one, two, three a day. Within two weeks we had an officer who had two saves back to back.”

Hahn said she authored another bill that would make sure there was a follow-up for each person saved. A Narcan reversal saves a life, but does nothing to end the need for the drug and the cravings. The second piece of legislation tasks the health department with reaching out to those saved to attempt to get them into treatment.

A third piece of legislation she wrote provides training for lay people — like the group assembled at the Bates House — to carry and use Narcan. She encouraged all present to be trained and prepared.

The statistics Hahn gave for Narcan saves showed a steady increase over the last five years. In 2012 after passage of the legislation in August, there were 325 saves. Numbers rose year by year to 475 in 2013, 493 in 2014, 542 in 2015 and 681 in 2016 when at least 240 people died of overdoses, according to Hahn.

David Scofield, who has been sober for three years, delivered a message of hope for those in attendance.

“I don’t have the answers,” he said. “I do know how [it is] to be a kid struggling with drug addiction. This thing is killing people. Hundreds of people are dying from heroin addiction every day and you don’t hear about it. That’s just the truth.”

Scofield’s message also included a plea for loved ones of addicts to get past the stigma of addiction and bring the conversation to the community. As long as people hide the cause of death, he said, he believes kids will continue to die.

For information about this support group, call Lise Hintze 631-689-7054.

By Tracey Farrell

I was honored to be named a Person of the Year by Times Beacon Record News Media for 2015.

While I was truly honored, I was more excited at the prospect of getting the word out about the work I do with my group: North Shore Drug Awareness.

After losing my son to an accidental overdose in 2012, I was given a voice I chose to use to help other families who are struggling with addiction — to share my failures and successes, and the resources I have found and acquired through networking.

The absolute most poignant part of this story is that my story was published. The original story — in which I was named a person of the year — was seen by a woman who recognized me in my photo that accompanied the article as a client in her accounting office. She immediately shared the story with her best friend — a friend who desperately needed help with her addicted children.

A message I received from her changed a life. Linda Cirone was absolutely paralyzed by her children’s addictions. Not only did she enable her adult children, but she hid in shame. She could barely function or participate in her own life, and in her message in my Facebook inbox, she used that key word — Help.

Tracey Farrell with Linda Cirone at TBR News Media’s honorary dinner. Photo from Tracey Farrell
Tracey Farrell with Linda Cirone at TBR News Media’s honorary dinner. Photo from Tracey Farrell

I brought her with me to the honorary men and women of the year dinner, because her story of how she reached out to me was too important not to share. The power of that article could potentially save a life. And it did … her own.

This past year has been a roller coaster of change for her.

She chose to finally open up and share beyond the confines of her best friend and family members who would listen. She reached out through social media to the different parent groups that she learned of and began to realize she was so not alone. She began to share her story, which, like mine, has helped others.

Her children are still struggling, and while one is improving, Linda has grown in her own recovery. Yes, her own.

Addiction is a family disease and, as a parent, you too must learn to cope, or you will lose yourself in the process. She has learned to no longer enable like she did in the past. She has also followed a dream. She moved away from her children to the warmth of Florida, and now has a lovely condo on a small waterway. While she still feels the pull of her children’s addictions, she has also started to feel some freedom. Freedom to feel the sunshine, enjoy a nice day out with friends and family she has near her. This was not even an option to her a year ago — just a dream.

While her son was in Florida after we came up with a plan for him to seek outside-of-state rehabilitation, she met a woman who is the guardian angel for parents who send their kids to Florida for rehab.

The other day, as I opened my Facebook feed, I saw a post.

Linda checked in to the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County with that angel I spoke of. She attended her first task force meeting to help fight for positive changes in addiction services and housing in that area.

She has grown exponentially over this past year. She needed to. She was sick of hiding, but didn’t know where to look for help. And she found it. All because of an article in a local newspaper.

Tracey Farrell, previously Tracey Budd, is a Rocky Point resident who, since her son’s passing, educates others on drug abuse and assists in finding help for those who are struggling or know someone who is struggling with addiction. She is the founder of North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates and also a 2015 TBR Person of the Year.

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Celina Wilson, left, of Bridge of Hope Resource Center, and Zachary Jacobs, right, of Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, address community members who attended an educational forum at Port Jefferson high school Oct. 19. Photos by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson high school played host to an educational forum on the ongoing addiction problem facing the community Oct. 19.

The forum, entitled The Adolescent Brain: Preventing High-Risk Behaviors, was presented by Bridge of Hope Resource Center, a Port Jefferson Station nonprofit created in 1998 with the goal of improving the lives of individuals in the community and is a strong advocate in the fight against addiction. Speakers featured a former Brookhaven National Lab scientist who specializes in addiction and the human brain, a doctor in the field of adolescent medicine at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital and the founder and president of the nonprofit.

Suffolk County has statistically been one of the greatest areas of concern in New York for heroin and opioid deaths in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said the county has had more than 100 opioid-related overdoses for several consecutive years.

The issue is not just in New York. According to the CDC, from 2005 to 2014, drug overdose deaths have risen by 144 percent to 2,300 deaths in New York and 58 percent to 47,055 deaths in the nation.

Dr. Joanne Fowler has studied how the human brain changes as a result of drug use since the late 1980s at stops including Brookhaven National Lab. She shared some of her decades of findings with those in attendance.

“When you think about addiction, it’s a really complex problem, and you have many, many factors that play into it,” she said. “Addiction, I would call, the loss of control of a behavior even though it’s causing a lot of problems to the individual. It’s a very destructive behavior that the individual can’t stop even though they want to stop.”

Fowler said the age in which an individual begins a behavior, like using drugs, can play a large roll in addiction because the part of the brain susceptible to addiction takes time to mature.

“The frontal cortex is a very important part of the brain,” she said. “It matures very slowly, so you really don’t have a mature frontal cortex until your early twenties.”

Dr. Zachary Jacobs, who works as a counselor for children at Stony Brook, discussed some risk factors for children and adolescents that could lead down a path of addiction, and some are out of a parent’s control.

“We’ve heard a lot about what parents and family can do, and I’m here to say despite your best efforts, it still might not be enough,” he said. “Despite a strong family, great, open communication, sometimes adolescents are just going to become their own individuals that disagree with family and societal norms … peers become so much more important than family, I’m sorry to say that.”

He recommended open communication and education as a means to combat potentially addictive, hazardous behaviors in children and adolescents to at least avoid issues with addiction, but total prevention is not that simple, he said.

Celina Wilson started Bridge of Hope Resource Center. She is the mother of three children, and she identified several risk factors parents should look for as potential signs of addiction. Insecurity pertaining to body image or loneliness, stress, life-changing events such as a divorce or death in the family, bullying, failure or rejection, depression, academic challenges, failure in competitive sports, a need for acceptance and several others were the factors Wilson suggested parents should be wary of and could be the root of later addiction.

“We have to help our teens better understand the world,” Wilson said. “We have to explain and review risks with them as much as possible.”

Lit luminaires light up the night during the third annual Lights of Hope event in Port Jefferson on Aug. 31. Photo by Nora Milligan

It’s no time to pass the buck.

When it comes to the rising opioid abuse issue coursing through Long Island’s veins, we want to make sure we continue the open dialogue.

As you finish reading this edition, we hope you reflect on how this growing problem affects you, your family, your friends and everyone else around you — we can’t hide from this.

We need to take a more head-on approach to this medical issue, and accept that it is a medical problem, and not as some say a moral failing.

Parents shouldn’t let the stigma attached to drug or substance abuse keep them from talking about it. If we are to learn and grow and recover, we need to be talking. If we hide from the issue, the results will most certainly be fatal.

This is a problem that requires a collaborative effort, including prevention through education and early identification of at-risk people, enforcement with sharper penalties to dealers and prescription writers and improved rehabilitation resources and strategies. And as this issue should reflect, many groups on the North Shore are dedicated to working together to fight this crisis.

A cooperative combination of all of these things can help get Long Island headed in the right direction. Listed below are several resources if you or a loved one is struggling with substance or drug abuse.

• Suffolk County Substance Abuse Hotline: 631-979-1700

• Hope House Ministries: 631-978-0188

• Response of Suffolk County 24-hour hotline: 631-751-7500

• Prevention Resource Center: 631-650-0135

• Phoenix House’s Edward D. Miller substance abuse treatment center: 844-296-9046

• Samaritan Village’s Suffolk Outpatient Treatment Program: 631-351-7112

• St. Charles Hospital rehab program: 631-474-6233

• New York State HOPEline: 1-877-8-HOPENY

Suffolk County Division of Community Mental Hygiene Services: 631-853-8500

Visit http://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/substanceabuse for a downloadable prevention, treatment and recovery services directory, which gives a list of service agencies and treatment centers on Long Island.

By Tracey Farrell

In 2002, my 16-year-old son Kevin had surgery on his shoulder for a football injury. He was prescribed 60 Vicodin pills with no other instructions but to take one or two of them every four to six hours for pain.

I didn’t know they weren’t like antibiotics, and you weren’t supposed to take all 60. He was still in pain, so they gave him 60 more. Well, guess who is now addicted to them? He was buying them during lunch.

This is the high school quarterback. His girlfriend is the cheerleading captain. He is beautiful, loving, fun and funny. His friends love him. His teachers and coaches love him. He has not an enemy in the world. He graduates. He works. He is a great kid.

Kevin chose to smoke pot instead of taking the pills soon after high school, but at some point he went back to the pills — especially since I was on him all of the time to stop smoking. He had multiple concussions over his high school football career. After his last one, I saw a change in his personality. He was easily angered, depressed, anxious — all things he was not before.

I didn’t know at the time that marijuana and opioids help make all of those symptoms so much better. The drugs make them disappear. I didn’t know that the only enemy he did have was the one within himself.

Tracey Farrell and her son Kevin Norris in 2010. Photo from Tracey Farrell
Tracey Farrell and her son Kevin Norris in 2010. Photo from Tracey Farrell

When Kevin went back to the pills, he began snorting them this time. A lot of them. Once I saw a powder residue on his glass desk and, only knowing what I saw on TV, I put it on my tongue to see if it would numb it.

Nope, not cocaine.

I knew deep down something was going on. He didn’t shower as often or take care of his teeth. Changes in his habits were starting to happen.

These Oxycodone pills are expensive, and make you painfully sick when you don’t have them. An addict becomes so desperate that they will beg, borrow and steal to get them — literally. Eventually when you have exhausted stealing your family’s available cash, you steal their jewelry, sports memorabilia and anything else of value you can sneak out of the house. You write bad checks from your mom’s bank account. Eventually you realize there’s an alternative available and you turn to heroin. It’s cheap, and readily available. You just have to put money in your mailbox and drugs appear moments later.

That point happened some time in 2011. I assume he started snorting it before he shot it.

Nine years in and I am still clueless, uneducated, unaware to so much of it. Kevin never, ever looked high in front of me. I was missing spoons, which are used to melt the heroin down to a soluble form, but I still thought maybe they were thrown out by mistake? Yes, he had been to rehab, but I didn’t know that it didn’t fix you. I didn’t know that me giving him no option but to enter rehab wouldn’t work. I didn’t know that he had to want to be in recovery.

I learned how to be manipulated. I enabled everything. I believed every lie he told me and would hand over money in fear he would be killed for the money he owed.

Eventually, he must leave the house. Kevin would live in his car, on which I was now making the payments and insuring. It’s winter and I cannot fathom the thought of him in a car at Christmas, so I get him an apartment. I sent his stepfather over many times to see if he was alive when I couldn’t get in touch with him. I even called 911 on him when I thought he was suicidal, which resulted in a short hospital hold. I started to understand that he does not want this for himself, but doesn’t know how to stop. He fears withdrawal, and I hear his pain and cries when he begs me for money because he is so sick. He is eventually hospitalized for a blood infection. I realize I can no longer keep him in that apartment.

I clean the place out.

He didn’t need much food. The only thing in the fridge was water. I find all the things he has used as a tourniquet. There is an amazing amount of plastic garbage bag drawstrings removed from bags, Q-tips everywhere with the cotton taken off which are used as filters. So many water bottle caps. So many syringes.

“There were times I threw money into his car so angrily when he asked me. I struggled between loving him and hating him.”

I didn’t want my son to die, but I’m realizing I’m making it more comfortable for him.

Through most of his addiction he was highly functioning, always holding down a job. This was no longer the case.

He gets out of the hospital and is back to his car. I’m giving him $20 a day. He gets food stamps and Medicaid from the Department of Social Services. I find he sells what’s on his food stamp card. I pump gas in his car, but I do not hand over more cash. There were times I threw money in his car so angrily at him when he asked.

I struggled between loving him and hating him.

He began living in a hotel with his dealer and got arrested for possession of a syringe. He’s assigned a public defender, but of course Mom pays the fees and it’s knocked down.

But a few days prior, he made the choice on his own — which is key — to seek help.

He made the calls on his own, instead of me doing all of the legwork, to enter South Oaks Hospital in Amityville. His third try at rehab. But now, he wants it.

I went to a family meeting about 10 days in.

There he is. My son, my real son. Thank you, thank you and thank you.

He was enrolled in a 28-day program. He went to Mainstream House in Riverhead, a sober house. We do family things together again. We shop, we go to lunch, dinner. He wanted to be around us again. I haven’t had this in years. We laugh, we cry.

He got kicked out of sober living for having Ambien, a prescription drug, because he had a hard time sleeping. I let him back home. Kevin has a new job, a new girlfriend. He seems happy.

Tracey Farrell, a Rocky Point resident and founder of North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates, displays her luminaire in memory of her son Kevin during the third annual Lights of Hope event in Port Jefferson on Aug. 31. Photo by Nora Milligan
Tracey Farrell, a Rocky Point resident and founder of North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates, displays her luminaire in memory of her son Kevin Norris during the third annual Lights of Hope event in Port Jefferson on Aug. 31. Photo by Nora Milligan

I didn’t go to the classes I should have. I didn’t learn that someone new to recovery does not want their past thrown at them. One day at a time is their mantra. Yesterday is the past. He’s going to his meetings on a regular basis, but now that he is working, that starts to not be as often. Anything that goes missing I automatically accuse him. He wants a new phone because his is old and cracked. I bought him a new one and he “lost” it. I still tell him that if he didn’t sell it he would have it. He tells me he is working an honest program and that he has told me everything — including that he did not sell the phone. I apologize and tell him I am proud of him.

Kevin is working for a company which does party rentals.

One Sunday, in September 2012, he came home looking tired. He was thrilled that they gave him a $100 tip. They even gave him the leftover cake, which we of course ate together. We spoke of the cotton candy on his sneakers, because he worked the cotton candy machine. He thought it was fun.

The next day, his sister found him dead in bed. It was an accidental overdose.

They say money is a trigger.

I will never know what led him back. I know now I didn’t cause it. I couldn’t control it and I couldn’t cure it. I prepared myself that this day could come, but I thought he was in the clear. Our very last conversation was about cotton candy, one of the things I craved most when I was pregnant with him.

I still have the cotton-candy-covered shoe laces. I miss him every day. I still struggle with not doing the things I now know I should have done, and I try to teach people every day to not make the same mistakes I did. Learn from me please. Let me tell you anything and everything that may help you or your loved one. It helps me to help you.

I just went to a celebration meeting of one of his best friends celebrating one year of sobriety on Sunday, and he said, “I think he may have died so I can live.”

Tracey Farrell, formerly Tracey Budd, is a Rocky Point resident who, since her son’s passing, educates others on drug abuse and assists in finding help for those who are struggling, or know someone who is struggling, with addiction. She is the founder of North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates and also a 2015 TBR Person of the Year.

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