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Addiction

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.

Two people embrace at a lights of Hope event two years ago. File photo by Heather Khalifa

In honor of Overdose Awareness and National Recovery Month, Lights of Hope is returning to Port Jefferson.

On Aug. 31 at Memorial Park on the Harbor in Port Jefferson Village, Dan’s Foundation for Recovery, a 501(c)3 non-profit based in Stony Brook that is dedicated to helping substance abuse addicts find a new direction, and Magnolia New Beginnings, a Massachusettes-based organization that advocated for those affected by addiction, are inviting those near and far to a candle lighting.

The event, which will begin at 7 p.m., marks a day to remember those lost to drug overdose, and support those who are struggling or are still in recovery. Guest speakers will be present, as well as live acoustic music during the lighting of lumières.

All proceeds generated from a raffle will help someone who is struggling to get into and pay for rehab.

For more information, call 631-946-0807.

Stephen Harding photo from SCPD

A Setauket woman reported her homeless son missing last week and police are looking for the public’s help to find the man, who has special medical needs.

Stephen Nathaniel Harding, who goes by the nickname “Nat,” might be in the Selden or Farmingville areas, according to the Suffolk County Police Department. The mother has not heard from her son since May 22 and reported him missing on June 13.

The 29-year-old Harding has Type II diabetes and is addicted to heroin, police said. Authorities described the homeless man as white, 5 feet 5 inches tall with brown eyes and brown hair. He weighs about 200 pounds and has a scar on his forehead.

Anyone with information about Harding’s whereabouts is asked to call 911, or the 6th Squad detectives who are looking for him at 631-854-8652.

The poster for the short film "Grace." Photo from Marisa Vitali

By Victoria Espinoza

“Grace” did not come easy for Northport native Marisa Vitali, but she has used her struggles to help inspire others.

 The poster for the short film "Grace." Photo from Marisa Vitali
The poster for the short film “Grace.” Photo from Marisa Vitali

The village will be rolling out the red carpet for the premier of Vitali’s short film, “Grace,” based on her experiences battling addiction and recovery. In an interview, the filmmaker said she wanted to tell her story differently and focus more on the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I felt like a turtle without a shell, raw and emotionally exposed,” Vitali said of her struggles. “This was the story I wanted to tell in the film ‘Grace.’ Anyone can watch a film and learn how to shoot a bag of dope or smoke a crack pipe. I wanted to tell a story of hope and recovery and bridge a gap between addicts and non-addicts to start that conversation of recovery.”

The film focuses on a woman in her first year of recovery working at diner, which mirrors Vitali’s real life. She worked at Tim’s Shipwreck Diner in Northport during her first year of recovery. Vitali said she included the snapshot in her film because of how important the first days of improvement are for recovering addicts.

“The first year is the most difficult,” she said. “You’re left with fear, shame, anger and guilt.”

Vitali, who is now nearly 15 years sober, said she went to an outpatient program at Daytop Village Inc. in Huntington Station once she made a commitment to get clean, and continues to attend support meetings.

Discussing the problem is half the battle, Vitali said. She said a lot of people think addiction will never happen to them, or their loved ones, so they end up not having the information they need to deal with the struggles of substance abuse.

“Addiction is still portrayed as a taboo topic,” she said. “There is a lot of stigma attached to it. There is something to be said about how we can all be a little more compassionate for one’s struggle to overcome against all odds.”

Anthony Fernandino, chair of the Northport-East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force, said he hopes the film sparks a conversation about the importance of the prevention side of dealing with drug addiction.

“I felt like a turtle without a shell, raw and emotionally exposed.” — Marisa Vitali

“We want to continue to raise awareness, and provide the community with more education,” he said in a phone interview. “If we can prevent a kid or give a parent the tools they need to prevent this from happening, it is a much easier [task] than treating a kid who is already in the throws of addiction.”

He said this film could help give parents new talking points for more open conversations with their children and provide concrete examples of what to do to keep a safe and healthy environment.

This film also lines up with an ongoing battle facing Suffolk County, and the nation as a whole.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 28,000 overdose deaths in 2014 as a result of heroin or opioid abuse across the United States — the highest number on record in any single year. Last year alone, Suffolk County suffered 103 fatal heroin overdoses and tallied more heroin-related overdose deaths than any county in New York from 2009 to 2013, according to the New York State Opioid Poisoning, Overdose and Prevention 2015 Report.

“Grace” was filmed at Tim’s Shipwreck Diner in the village, and Vitali said the community has been extremely supportive of this endeavor.

Marisa Vitali grew up in Northport, which is also the setting for her short film. Photo from Marisa Vital
Marisa Vitali grew up in Northport, which is also the setting for her short film. Photo from Marisa Vital

“It was important to shoot in Northport because it was a homecoming of sorts, and it felt like I had come full circle.”

Not only has “Grace” been received well by the community, it has also won film awards including Best Drama at the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival, the Audience Award for Best Short Film at the Long Island International Film Expo, and was selected for the short film corner in the Cannes Film Festival.

And the journey isn’t ending anytime soon for this short film.

Vitali said she is working to use the film, along with a lesson plan, as a learning tool for health classes in the Northport-East Northport school district.

“This was one of my intentions,” she said. “I wanted it to be available for educational purposes because there is not a lot of education on coming out of addiction and the recovery process.”

“Grace” will be shown at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport on June 7 in an event hosted by the Northport-East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force. All proceeds will benefit Youth Directions and Alternatives, a nonprofit organization serving communities throughout Huntington by developing services and sober programs for youth in the communities.

Following the film premiere, there will be a question and answer session with Vitali and the director of the Huntington Drug and Alcohol Task Force Barry Zaks, where they will also discuss ways in which the community can work to address the issue of addiction.

The event was created for high school students, as there is some inappropriate language. Tickets for the event can be purchased at www.engemantheater.com/event/grace-premiere.

To learn more about “Grace” visit: www.grace-the-movie.com

To learn more about Marisa Vitali visit: www.marisavitali.com

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People at an anti-drug forum stay afterward to learn how to use the anti-overdose medication Narcan. Above, someone practices spraying into a dummy’s nostrils. Photo by Elana Glowatz

We’ve been hit with some staggering figures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 28,000 overdose deaths in 2014 as a result of heroin or opioid abuse, the highest number on record. Last year alone Suffolk County suffered 103 fatal heroin overdoses. Suffolk tallied more heroin-related overdose deaths than any county in New York from 2009 to 2013, according to the New York State Opioid Poisoning, Overdose and Prevention 2015 Report.

Although local and national initiatives have come from all different angles to try to combat the rise in heroin and opioid abuse, we think lawmakers lack focus.

Most recently, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) endorsed a large legislation package that would review and update guidelines for prescribing opioids and pain medication and require a report to Congress on the availability of substance abuse treatment in the country, among many other provisions. While we applaud any earnest effort to combat the widespread problem, there needs to be more focus from one specific angle: prevention.

With treatment and recovery options across the North Shore and with the rate at which the county is now taking down drug dealers, enforcement and rehabilitation are not our biggest problems. Instead, more needs to be done to deter kids from ever considering to try drugs in the first place. While some schools have begun to work on this, working with police to hold Narcan training sessions and informational forums, students should be seeing more than just numbers and figures, police officers or counselors.

Tracey Budd, of Rocky Point, helped Suffolk County create a public service announcement, “Not My Child,” that has been shown in schools. Budd lost her son to a heroin overdose and her message is powerful. Kids need to see the struggles that addicts and their families go through to help hammer home how dangerous drugs are.

We also urge parents to be more aware and involved. You know your child — look, listen and ask questions. There are signs in mood, behavior, habit and appearance that could warn you that there’s a serious problem. And don’t be afraid to set boundaries or to talk both about drugs and other topics that may seem difficult or awkward. Many people are drawn to drugs because of an underlying emotional issue, but letting a teenager know that nonjudgmental ears are listening could be a solution.

Frederick Douglass once famously said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Building those stronger children is how we should tackle our country’s growing drug problem.

Congressman Lee Zeldin, joined by Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini, health professionals, community groups, parents, expresses his support for the package of bills coming to the House floor this week. File photo from Jennifer DiSiena

By Phil Corso

Congress is taking unprecedented steps to fight heroin and opioid abuse, and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) brought the battle to Kings Park to spread the word.

In the company of other lawmakers and activists, Zeldin spoke at VFW Post 5796 last Thursday to discuss a package of bipartisan legislation the congressman has been pushing that addresses different angles of the disturbing upward trend in heroin and prescription opioid abuse on Long Island and across the country. The momentum from his stumping also helped propel several pieces of such legislation to a vote on the House floor by the following week.

The proposed legislation would review and update guidelines for prescribing opioids and pain medication, and require a report to Congress on the availability of substance abuse treatment in the country, among other provisions.

In his remarks last week, the congressman cited an alarming statistic from the Centers for Disease Control: more than 28,000 overdose deaths were recorded in 2014 as a result of heroin or opioid abuse — the highest number on record. Zeldin, who joined the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic in November, said Suffolk County recorded one of the highest rates of overdose deaths across the state, and needed a multi-pronged approach to address it.

“Next week, the House of Representatives is dedicating a full week to passing legislation aimed at addressing this epidemic, with a package of several bills to combat the growing heroin and opioid crisis,” Zeldin said. “Addiction and overdose deaths on Long Island and across our country are skyrocketing as a direct result of the increase in heroin and opioid abuse.”

In a phone interview, Zeldin said this was the first time the House had taken such unified measures to combat the problem, as its consequences were becoming impossible to ignore. The congressman used strong language when outlining the heroin addiction problem to drive it home.

“The rates that overdoses are increasing, and the fact that it’s not isolated to any one kind of community, has led many to describe this as an epidemic,” he said.

Joining Zeldin was Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini, who has been working on the front lines of the addiction problem, as Suffolk County suffered 103 fatal heroin overdoses in 2015 alone — more than double its neighboring Nassau County, which recorded 50. Sini also used the term “epidemic” to describe the fight he and his fellow officers have been facing.

“The heroin epidemic that our nation is facing is the number one public health and public safety issue here in Suffolk County,” Sini said. “Partnerships between local law enforcement and our federal representatives is a crucial tool in the battle against this scourge.”

And North Shore natives who felt the hurt of that “epidemic” stood beside Zeldin and Sini to throw their support behind legislative resolutions. Kim Revere, president of the Kings Park in the kNOw Community Coalition, and Linda Ventura, founder of the Thomas’ Hope Foundation, both said there were several different approaches lawmakers must take to address addiction, from prevention to rehabilitation.

“I believe wholeheartedly that prevention should begin at home,” said Revere, referring to the legislation as a wakeup call. “I am seeing many adults abusing alcohol and [prescription] drugs and that does not bode well for our children. I would like to see permanent evidence-based prevention programs implemented in school grades kindergarten through 12.”

Ventura, whose son Thomas died at age 21 from a drug overdose four years ago, said measures like Narcan, a medication which is administered to help reverse the effects of a heroin overdose, were important but not the only tool emergency responders should lean on.

“The United States needs to commit every resource imaginable to fight this insidious disease. The lifesaving tool Narcan needs to be accessible to all concerned to help save a life in the interim of an overdose to find treatment,” she said. “Treatment needs to be the appropriate level of care at the earliest intervention possible. Prevention — we must start educating and empowering our youngest of children with coping skills, relaxation techniques and communication skills.”

Event attendees learn how to use Narcan to counteract opioid overdoses. Photo by Giselle Barkley

By Giselle Barkley

Parents and students alike walked out of Mount Sinai High School knowing the ugly truth about heroin and opioid use and addiction. But they also walked away with a lesson about Narcan.

Event attendees learn how to use Narcan to counteract opioid overdoses. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Event attendees learn how to use Narcan to counteract opioid overdoses. Photo by Giselle Barkley

The school district held it’s first “The Ugly Truth” presentation on Tuesday in the Mount Sinai High School auditorium. Suffolk County Police Department officer George Lynagh, EMS officer Jason Byron and county Medical Examiner Michael Caplan tackled the origins of heroin and trends among addicts over the years. Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) also spoke at the event.

But residents didn’t simply learn about heroin on the Island, they also left with their own Narcan kits after Byron led a Narcan training class. According to Sgt. Kathleen Kenneally of the police department’s Community Response Bureau, Narcan, also known as Naloxone, was successfully administered around 530 times since the opiate antidote was introduced to the police department in July 2012.

Narcan, which reverses the effect of heroin or other opiate-based overdoses, can be administered via an injection or nasal spray. Mount Sinai resident Susan Matias said the spray is a friendly option for community members.

“Here, it’s introduced through the nasal passages — there’s no harm done, you’re not afraid of administering a needle and/or sticking yourself in the moment of chaos,” Matias said. “I think that’s why people are more open to partake and participate in the training.”

The nasal spray also makes it easier for people who still have a stigma about drug addicts and users. Byron reminded residents that the face of addicts has evolved and they’re not the only ones in need of drugs like Narcan.

“Sadly, the connotation is, we think people that could have overdosed are dirty when really it doesn’t have to be,” Byron said. “For opiate overdose, it doesn’t mean that it’s someone addicted to heroin. It could be somebody who’s possibly on pain management for cancer, end of life care, hospice care. It’s not the stereotypical — I hate to say it — junkie. That’s not what we’re seeing out there.”

According to Caplan, in the last few years, drug addicts who’ve overdosed on the substance have gotten younger and younger. The rate of opiate overdose deaths has increased by 140 percent since 2000. Synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, are responsible for 80 percent of these death rate increases.

Fentanyl, which some dealers or users will mix with another drug like heroin, is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Combining this drug with others can make it difficult when administering Narcan.

“One of the problems with Fentanyl is, because it’s so potent, because it acts so fast, you may need to give multiple doses of Naloxone,” Caplan said.

According to Lynagh, the police department is starting to see higher levels of Fentanyl. He added that in his more than three decades as a police officer, the drug is one of the more addictive drugs he has seen. Lynagh added that heroin was initially introduced to combat morphine addiction.

“We don’t have too many people addicted to morphine now,” Lynagh said. “We have this heroin addiction, so sometimes we mean to do something well or combat a drug or something bad, with something else that’s bad.”