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Heroin

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.”

Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn and recovering alcoholic and addict David Scofield answer questions posed by concerned parents at a past Three Village Drug & Alcohol Awareness meeting. File 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.

Police Commissioner Tim Sini and EMS Officer Jason Byron demonstrate how to administer Narcan. Photo by Kevin Redding.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini updated the community last week on the success of the department’s Ugly Truth program, a county-wide initiative designed to curb opioid use through community seminars that educate parents and teens, provide treatment options to help those in need of recovery, and shine a graphic light on what these drugs do to those who take them.

The commissioner and local officials took to West Islip Public Library Jan. 25 to champion the department’s Ugly Truth program.

“It’s very important that we recognize the problem, talk about the problem clearly and intelligently, and that we provide people with the tools necessary to get their lives back on track,” Sini said at the press conference that addressed what’s being done by the police to combat the county’s rising heroin and opiates problem.

Suffolk residents who attend the seminars also learn how to administer Narcan, the life-saving drug that reverses the effects of an overdose and helped save well over 200 lives in 2016.

“It’s very important that we recognize the problem, talk about the problem clearly and intelligently, and that we provide people with the tools necessary to get their lives back on track.”

— Tim Sini

Sini said the epidemic has climbed in the past year, with upwards of 346 fatal opioid-related overdoses in 2016 as opposed to more than 270 fatal opioid-related overdoses in 2015.

“We need to be invested in solving this problem…there’s no silver bullet here, we need to fight it on all fronts: on the law enforcement front, on the prevention front, on the treatment front, and recovery front,” Sini said.

Since the Ugly Truth program launched in March 2015, with an emergency medical services unit and the medical examiner’s office, 41 forums have been held with a total 3,500 participants. Nearly 700 attendees were between the ages 14 and 17; more than 3,000 have been trained to administer Narcan and 2,400 Narcan kits have been distributed.

A segment of the forum, “Operation: Medicine Cabinet,” teaches parents to make sure prescription drugs are properly disposed of to prevent their kids from rummaging through and finding anything that might be harmful. People in recovery who’ve experienced substance abuse disorders are also brought in to talk about how their addiction has affected their lives and those around them, and resources geared toward combatting addiction, including the Suffolk County Substance Abuse Hotline number, are made available.

The Suffolk County Police Department has also partnered with the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and other organizations to help overdose victims get treatment.

After an overdose, the department gives the victim’s contact information to LICADD and other organizations, which then reach out to the victim about recovery options. In 2016, SCPD provided LICADD with information on 221 overdose victims; 59 of those victims were successfully contacted, and 26 of them were involved in treatment. According to officials these statistics are improving every year.

“If we don’t get personal, families suffer personally and that’s what the Ugly Truth is about,” SCPD Deputy Commissioner Risco Mention-Lewis said. “It’s to be thought of as a personal relationship with members of the bureau, communities, parents and families to say ‘we know you’re suffering, you may not even know what to look for, but we can help you stop this as soon as possible.’”

Officials said nothing hits attendees — especially young ones — harder than when medical examiners and medical experts from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services show slides of some of the devastating physical effects of substance abuse. These graphic images include a side-by-side comparison of a normal heart to a yellowing deteriorated heart and frothing from the mouth and nose as a result of leaky blood vessels in the lung, both caused by opioid use.

“While these pictures are not for shock value, we are trying to scare them [teenagers] a little bit and show them some of the things we actually see in the medical examiner’s office,” Suffolk County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Caplan said. “I also want kids and families to know…it’s not just about the overdose; there are multiple other complications, diseases, and infections that can also be complications of addiction.”

“If we don’t get personal, families suffer personally and that’s what the Ugly Truth is about.”

— Risco Mention-Lewis

Sini and EMS Officer Jason Byron gave a brief demonstration of Narcan training that Ugly Truth program attendees receive. While the commissioner was quick to point out that Narcan doesn’t cure drug addiction and won’t wipe out the epidemic, he said it’s a step in the right direction.

“Each life we save with Narcan is a potential story of recovery,” he said. “It’s to be administered to the overdosing person as quickly as possible so they’re still alive when first responders arrive. If you administer Narcan, you must call 911 once the person is revived.”

Dr. Scott Coyne, chief police surgeon in the SCPD, has been instrumental in implementing Narcan in the department. He said he’s pleased with how successful it’s been so far.

“There’s just a dramatic number of people that are walking around now that would never have been walking around [without Narcan],” Coyne said. “Unfortunately there is a need for this. It’s a two-edged sword. It’s a great program, but it also points out the extent of the problem.”

The commissioner expressed optimism the prevention work of the program has been effective. Even though the county saw a record amount of deaths brought on by opioids in 2016, the average age of those overdosing is higher than it’s been in the past. He said it’s suggestive that the department’s awareness is getting through to young people.

“While the numbers don’t seem to be going down, there is that one silver lining,” Sini said. “This is a long-term investment that we need to be making. We’ve made a lot of progress on the treatment front. The next frontier has to be prevention and recovery. There has been a complete acceptance now that this is an epidemic that affects all communities, all races, and all demographics.”

Young members of the Northport-East Northport Community Drug and Alcohol Task Force smile with their flag as they prepare to walk in a parade. Photo from Anthony Ferrandino

By Victoria Espinoza

The Northport-East Northport Community Drug and Alcohol Task Force received more than half a million dollars in a grant from the federal government to help further educate the youth in the community about the dangers of substance and alcohol abuse.

Anthony Ferrandino, co-chair of the task force, said the group has had their eyes on the Drug Free Communities grant for five years, and applied last year, so he was “ecstatic” to finally receive it.

The grant is part of the Drug Free Communities Support Program, a White House project that works to reduce youth substance use by promoting communitywide participation and evidence-based practices.

“The prescription drug abuse crisis on Long Island is symptomatic of the larger opioid epidemic that New York State and the entire country is facing, and we need to fight back now.” — Chuck Schumer

Ferrandino said the federal grant is extremely competitive, which makes him even prouder the task force was selected to receive it.

“I was so happy,” he said in a phone interview. “This is something I know Northport will benefit from.”

The task force worked with the Central Nassau Guidance & Counseling Services, a not-for-profit behavioral health safetynet organization, to help apply for, win and administer the funds. The task force will receive $125,000 per year for the next five years.

The not-for-profit will provide both administrative oversight in the future, as well as clinical and subject matter expertise on substance-use prevention and treatment.

Jeffrey Friedman, CEO of Central Nassau, and a Northport resident, said the grant helps ensure students will have a plethora of resources to help them deal with the increase in substance abuse throughout Suffolk County.

“This funding from the federal government infuses urgently needed financial resources to one of the strongest grassroots movements on Long Island — to save the lives of youth who are using drugs and alcohol, starting at very young ages,” he said in an email. “Even as heroin and prescription opioids are destroying L.I. families at unprecedented rates, this community-focused grant provides a new opportunity to break the cycle of abuse and ‘business as usual’ — and to spark community-level change.”

The federal grant enables the hiring of a full-time task force coalition leader, and supports a range of coordinated practices and evidence-supported activities aimed at prevention. The programs include parent-education, social media initiatives, pharmacist/youth collaboration and stricter law enforcement practices.

Ferrandino said the task force is currently interviewing candidates for the coalition leader position, and they want someone who can communicate and educate the community, run multiple subcommittees and manage the emotional aspects of the growing drug problem.

The co-chair said that when applying for the grant, the task force wanted to use the money to focus on two specific problems; underage drinking and prescription drug abuse.

New York legislators are proud of the progress the Northport-East Northport Community Drug and Alcohol Task Force has made.

“The prescription drug abuse crisis on Long Island is symptomatic of the larger opioid epidemic that New York State and the entire country is facing, and we need to fight back now,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) said in a statement. “These grant recipients have been on the front lines of combatting the disturbing drug abuse uptick among our Long Island youth and this investment will provide them with the resources they need to continue their lifesaving work.”

The task force was first created in 2006, and has designed programs to reach out to students in the Northport/East Northport community, including sponsoring a film premiere this year about drug abuse recovery, organizing Narcan training sessions, and more.

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. 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.

Debbie Carpinone and her son Anthony Forte. Photo from Debbie Carpinone

By Kevin Redding

On what would have been Anthony Michael Forte’s 25th birthday Oct. 8, Debbie Carpinone stood over a cake decorated with a photo of her son and icing that spelled out “Happy Birthday In Heaven Anthony There’s A Light That Will Never Go Out” and led family and friends in singing to him before taking a brief moment to reflect and pray to herself.

All were gathered at VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point to honor and celebrate her son’s memory with live music, catered treats, a Chinese auction and raffle prizes for the 2nd annual Anthony’s Angels fundraiser.

For Carpinone — who lost Forte to a heroin overdose on May 2, 2015 — getting through this particular day without him is still a new challenge, but one that’s led her down a path of keeping active, doing good things for others and providing hope and charity to her community.

Local band Remedy plays old hits like ‘Fame’ by David Bowie during the second annual Anthony’s Angels fundraiser. Photo by Kevin Redding
Local band Remedy plays old hits like ‘Fame’ by David Bowie during the second annual Anthony’s Angels fundraiser. Photo by Kevin Redding

Last year, in the wake of Anthony’s death, she set up Anthony’s Angels to help raise money for Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson, various treatment programs, as well as establish a scholarship in his name at Mount Sinai High School, which is geared toward someone who has overcome a personal obstacle. Carpinone, who works as a teaching assistant for the Mount Sinai Elementary School, was able to give $1,000 to Matthew Kirby this past June and help him pay for college in Rhode Island.

“Anthony always wanted to go to school, but due to his addiction, he never got the chance to go,” Carpinone said. “He just was always in and out of rehabs, and sober houses.”

Now, she continues to keep herself busy in different ways, by striving to do something good in his memory, like the scholarship.

“Matthew [Kirby] was pretty much one of the only kids who really wrote from the heart, about losing his grandparents, and he has suffered a lot of loss as far as family members … and I felt connected to his family just by reading his essay,” she said. “I’m glad I went with my gut and chose him, because he’s just a wonderful kid.”

She wanted this year’s fundraiser to benefit the next scholarship and hopes that she’ll be able to give it out to two students in 2017. Because the event happened to fall on his birthday this year, she also wanted to throw a party he would’ve appreciated.

“Debbie is channeling her grief in such a positive way, and I just find everything she’s doing to be so good for her body, mind and soul. Her situation touched my heart.”

—Kelly Amantea

“He loved all the old Hollywood legends,” said Carpinone, who filled the room with huge cutout standees of Elvis Presley and Audrey Hepburn, and stocked the tables with photos of icons like James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra. She said that caterer Crazy Crepe Café even provided an Elvis-themed peanut butter and banana crepe.

“Everybody just came together, and it’s so nice to know that there’s still good people out there, and people that still want to do good things,” the mother said.

Long tables were covered with over 100 prizes from local businesses and attendees, including a $25 gift card to Setauket Pastaria, a glam girl Marilyn basket, a Mercedes Benz donation and a kid’s pedal car.

As local band Remedy played high-energy covers of David Bowie, The Knack and Weezer, pictures of Forte in what appeared to be his happiest days adorned the tables and walls, and had many reminiscing about him.

“He was a very special person,” said Dolores Franklin, Forte’s aunt. “He was very charismatic, talented. I can’t say enough. He loved to act, liked to do skits … he brought us a lot of laughter. And no matter how awful you looked, he’d always tell you you were beautiful. He made you feel good.”

She said that there was certainly a big hole in the family’s hearts, having lost such a huge presence.

“I just wish that one of us could’ve gotten through to him, and could’ve let him know how special he really was,” she said, “because I don’t think he knew how great he was.”

Debbie Carpinone reads off raffle winners at the Anthony’s Angels fundraiser. Photo by Kevin Redding
Debbie Carpinone reads off raffle winners at the Anthony’s Angels fundraiser. Photo by Kevin Redding

Carpinone wants to get rid of the stigma around heroin and those who get hooked on it, because her son didn’t look like a drug addict, didn’t come from a terrible family and wasn’t a bad person. As overdoses become more and more common across Long Island, it’s become very clear that drugs don’t know who you are, and addiction can latch itself onto anybody — a fact that more and more people are becoming aware of.

“Debbie’s son’s death was my first eye-opening experience to heroin,” said Kelly Amantea, Carpinone’s friend. “It never touched my life, my family, or my heart prior to that. It just never affected me. I knew nothing about it. I lived in my own little drug-free bubble.”

She said for her, a lot of awareness came out of the tragic event.

“I do find that the community as a whole is starting to wrap its arms around this,” she said. “I’m hoping that there’s more attention paid to this because it’s affecting more and more families — more and more lives — and I want the cure and the remedy to catch up with the epidemic … they’re so far apart right now.”

Amantea added she’d never been to a funeral like Forte’s before and believes every middle school kid should be dragged to a funeral of someone who died this way, to open children’s eyes to the harsh reality.

“It rocked me to my core and I don’t think these kids really understand what it’s like for the families that have to carry this,” she said. “That drug is Russian roulette. Debbie is channeling her grief in such a positive way, and I just find everything she’s doing to be so good for her body, mind and soul. Her situation touched my heart.”

The fundraiser raised $220 for Hope House Ministries and $1,500 for the scholarship.

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.

File photo

This week’s issues of Times Beacon Record Newspapers are set up a little differently.

Suffolk County has one of the highest rates of death from heroin and opioid overdoses in New York State, and we feel this growing drug abuse problem deserves a special journalistic spotlight. So we dedicated this issue to looking at the different angles of approaching the heroin and opioid problem. In this week’s paper, you will find facts: How much the substance abuse trend has grown throughout the past few years; how our local communities, governments, police departments and residents have adapted to fight back against this movement; and reflections from recovering addicts and parents who have lost children to drug overdoses.

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.

Graphic by TBR News Media.
Graphic by TBR News Media.

Commentators on the rising opioid crisis in the United States commonly say dealing with the problem requires a multi-pronged approach, and the Suffolk County Police Department agrees.

The department has expanded efforts to combat the many fronts of the opioid crisis, including prevention, treatment and enforcement.

Police Commissioner Tim Sini said in an interview that the opioid problem is the number one public safety and public health issue in Suffolk County.

“We have over 100 opioid-related overdoses every year for the past several years, and then when you consider the more than 500 Narcan saves on top of that, the tragic loss of life and the near tragic loss of life is just shocking,” he said at police headquarters in Yaphank.

It’s no secret the SCPD has their job cut out for them — in 2014 Suffolk County had the highest number of overdose deaths involving heroin, and was the leader in deaths where prescription opioids were a factor in the state, according to a report by the New York State Comptroller’s office from June.

In 2014 Suffolk County had the highest number of overdose deaths with heroin, and was the leader in deaths where prescription opioids were a factor in NY

Sini also highlighted how crime is so closely associated with an increase in drug activity.

“Addicts often resort to burglaries and larcenies, and sometimes they elevate to robberies,” he said. “And now we’re seeing our gangs getting involved in the heroin trade because there is a lot of money to be made and there are so many customers.”

The commissioner said the department is working as hard as it can to ensure it’s as inconvenient as possible to sell drugs in Suffolk County.

At the end of March, SCPD started a program that encourages residents to call 631-852-NARC, an anonymous hotline encouraging residents to call in with drug tips they have. If the tip leads to an arrest, the resident is entitled to a cash reward. This initiative works in conjunction with Crime Stoppers, a program that connects local police departments with the public and media to help find suspects and collect information that can lead to arrests.

“Since we rolled [the drug hotline] out at the end of March, we’ve received over 500 tips on that line, and many of those have resulted in investigations and search warrants,” Sini said. “We’ve seized kilogram quantities of narcotics as a result of this initiative, over a million dollars in drug money, dozens and dozens of weapons, and over 200 arrests under this initiative. It’s important because not only does it take drugs off the street but it sends the message that we’re not going to tolerate drug dealing in our communities.”

The police department has said open communication with the public is an important part of this fight, because the more communities speak up and help the department, the better work the police can do.

Sini said since he took over, there has been almost a 200 percent increase in the amount of search warrants executed, and many of these are due to tips from residents.

“[Search warrants] are very important because it disrupts drug operations before they become too significant,” Sini said. “It takes guns and drugs off the streets, and also strengthens the partnership between the police department and the community. It encourages people to be more informative.”

Relationships with federal law enforcement partners have also been re-established, Sini said, and five detectives now work with the Drug Enforcement Administration; four focus on the heroin trade and the fifth investigates doctors and pharmacists who have been reported to unlawfully dispense or prescribe pain medication.

The police department has also focused resources on treating drug addicts who are in the throes of addiction.

Inmates at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Yaphank have the option of receiving voluntary medical assistance while still in jail. The department offers inmates who are eligible for the program, meaning they don’t have any drugs currently in their system and have said they want to commit to getting clean, an injection of Vivitrol, a drug that works as an opioid antagonist, blocking the opioid receptors in the brain and preventing someone from getting high for 30 days.

“It gives you that mental clarity and stability to essentially not relapse, so you can stay in treatment,” Sini said. “It’s highly effective but most addicts don’t want to use it because once you take that shot, you know you can’t get high for thirty days. So it takes someone who is really committed to getting help.”

Sini said the program starts in jail, and they look for inmates who have essentially been incarcerated because they are addicted to drugs, with arrests due to burglaries, possession, and other drug-related crimes. Incarcerated individuals receive their first shot in jail, and then are set up with a treatment provider in their community to work with when they are released.

“This is a multifaceted problem that creates issues for families, schools, the police department, probation, courts, medical examiners, churches and more. And everyone has got to be at the table.”
— Tim Sini

Suffolk County officers are also dedicated to providing programs that help with prevention.

The Ugly Truth is a program meant to educate school districts and community groups on the dangers this growing problem poses for all different age groups in Suffolk County. There are many other programs in effect right now being taught throughout the county.

“If we can prevent someone from ever going down that road, that’s where you’ll get your biggest bang for your buck,” Sini said.

The commissioner said he is only interested in working with evidence-based programs, which are resources that have been studied by analysts to prove their effectiveness.

Certain police officers are also designated as school resource officers. They are assigned to specific districts to participate in awareness programs with the students.

Sini said despite all the resources the department provides, more needs to be done.

“The silver lining is, among the experts there is consensus,” Sini said. “We don’t sit there and debate if addiction is a disease or if the cops can solve this problem. We all get it; this is a multifaceted problem that creates issues for families, schools, the police department, probation, courts, medical examiners, churches and more. And everyone has got to be at the table.”

Suffolk County leads New York State in deaths related to heroin and opioid overdoses. Graphic by TBR News Media
Suffolk County leads New York State in deaths related to heroin and opioid overdoses. Graphic by TBR News Media

Suffolk County has a drug problem. And while it may be broken news, this is not breaking news.

Heroin and prescription opioid-related overdoses and deaths are increasing yearly across the nation, state and county, according to all available data, but the overall conversation lacks focus, those close to the issue have said. One Long Island man whose line of work leaves him with little insulation from the problem said it is worse than most would imagine.

Dan Moloney, who along with his brother Peter owns six Long Island locations of Moloney Family Funeral Homes, said in an exclusive interview that he believes the problem facing Suffolk County deserves a harsher spotlight. Moloney, who has an unenviable front row seat to the horrors that come from the addictive and powerful substance, said the problem reached a tipping point for him in 2009.

After a funeral for a Rocky Point student who overdosed, the Moloneys decided to try to use their platform to deliver an important message. They had posters made up with the words “Some kids are dying for a high” in bold letters on top of an image of a flower arrangement with a card that read, “With Deepest Sympathy, The class of ’10.” Below the image, the funeral director’s message read in part: “The last thing we want to see is a death that could have been prevented. Help us make sure we don’t.”

The Moloneys tried to distribute the posters to school districts around the Island, though they couldn’t find any takers.

Maloney’s Funeral home still has stacks of this poster. Photo by Alex Petroski
Moloney’s Funeral home still has stacks of this poster. Photo by Alex Petroski

“Nobody wants to talk about it,” Dan Moloney said. “Nobody wants to hear from the funeral director.”

On the surface, in Suffolk County, it would appear heroin abuse is a daily conversation in one way or another, from politicians sponsoring initiatives to news outlets covering arrests and overdoses, to firsthand accounts from former addicts in various forms.

Moloney said he wouldn’t agree — not only is the problem receiving too little attention, he said, but also the wrong people are doing the talking.

“Are people sitting in the bleachers talking about the heroin problem?” he said. “But if their kid had some sort of disease, they’d be talking about it. They’d be doing fundraisers to help them find a cure.”

The two go hand-in-hand — heroin and opioids — or at least they should, Moloney said. Heroin is an illegal and highly addictive version of an opioid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, statistics reporting deaths related to one or the other are not always paired.

The CDC’s website said health care providers wrote nearly a quarter of a billion prescriptions for legal opioids in 2013. Supply and demand for prescription pain medication doesn’t always dry up at the same rate. When the prescribed pills are gone and the desire for more lingers, the cheaper, stronger drug becomes a logical alternative.

In 2013, New York State’s Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing — Prescription Monitoring Program, also known as I-STOP/PMP, went into effect. The system works as a registry for practitioners to consult and track dispensed prescription histories for patients. The program has restricted supply of opioids to addicts, though it has done nothing to curb their demand. No tracking system exists for the neighborhood heroin dealer.

Moloney said one of his business’s facilities held funerals for three heroin overdose victims in just one day earlier this year. The closest comparison he could come up with to a public health concern inflicting that much damage in one day is a car crash that kills a vehicle full of people. He said that in some years, only two to three motorcycle-related deaths occur over the course of entire summer, which the public tends to find alarming, but that pales in comparison to heroin- and opioid-related deaths.

The difficulties in securing relevant and timely statistics on overdose-related deaths in New York State has contributed to undermining the understanding of the severity of Suffolk County’s problem, according to Moloney.

“Are people sitting in the bleachers talking about the heroin problem? But if their kid had some sort of disease, they’d be talking about it. They’d be doing fundraisers to help them find a cure.”

— Dan Maloney

“New York State is terrible,” he said about the state’s demographic record-keeping, which is an insight few could offer outside of the funeral business. “Three years down the road — the latest data you have is from three years ago. With the technology we have today, there’s absolutely no reason for that. And I know from colleagues that I have in other states, when you can’t get the information about how many deaths occurred in a certain place for two or three years, or what they were — because all of that is tracked — I just think the data that’s out there is antiquated and the situation is worse than the data they’re using shows.”

Father Francis Pizzarelli, director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson, has been a regular contributor of insight and opinions regarding heroin and opioid addiction among young people in Suffolk County for about as long. He, like Moloney, said the problem is likely worse than anyone in the county realizes.

“The level of denial among parents continues to be deeply disturbing,” Pizzarelli wrote in a April 2016 column featured in this newspaper. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, “which are a vital lifeline and network in our community for those working on recovery and wellness, have to worry that drug dealers are now waiting outside these meetings to prey on men and women in early recovery.”

Pizzarelli said his tipping point, much like that of Moloney’s, came in 2009. So far, though, he added, it has not been enough.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said in May there were 103 fatal heroin overdoses in Suffolk County in 2015. New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (D) released a report on June 9 saying there were more than 200 deaths in which heroin or opioids played a role in Suffolk County in 2014.

Regardless of how and when the deaths are identified with a specific cause or a contributing factor being opioids, one thing is clear to Moloney: the number is higher than we think.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, since the act of administering the medication Narcan to reverse an opioid overdose became commonplace in August 2012, more than 630 saves have been recorded through Sept. 22.

In addition to conflicting stats, Moloney said an issue that he encounters is the stigma parents feel about losing a child to an overdose and what it might suggest about their aptitude as a parent. Most of the time, parents decline to immediately identify a heroin or opioid overdose as their child’s cause of death, he said. In fact, Moloney estimated that nine out of 10 parents whose child died of an overdose don’t address the issue and the cause isn’t added to a death certificate until about three months later, when lab reports are complete.

“It almost creates an environment where there doesn’t have to be an acknowledgement —not publicly,” Moloney said. “Of course there’s a lot of shame.”