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LICADD

Sharon Richmond poses with her son Vincent D'Antoni in Battery Park on Mother’s Day 2016. “One day society will look back at this time period and think what a terrible atrocity we allowed to happen to our most vulnerable children,“ Richmond said. Photo by Sharon Richmond

I am educator, an advocate and most importantly a parent who lost her only child to the disease of addiction. Unfortunately, I know I am not alone. The truth is: I stand with more than 72,000 other parents who grieve the loss of their child to an overdose. 

When I speak publicly about addiction issues and look out at people, I see a small piece of me. When I look at your child, I see the beautiful potential of what could have been my child. If only mental health and the disease of addiction had the same basic human right to health care as other illnesses. I hope that by sharing my son’s story, I can create a future where all people are treated equally, no matter their ability or disability. 

My son Vincent was sensitive, kind, funny and insightful. He was popular, played almost every sport, and his teachers always said he brought conversations to the next level and stood up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. I will always stand tall and be proud of the person my son was. 

The one thing that most people never knew was that, no matter how hard he tried, Vincent still battled with serious mental health issues: ADHD, trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder), anxiety and low self-esteem, which eventually led to a deep depression. Even though Vincent had a family that absolutely adored him and everyone he met thought he was handsome, smart and funny, Vincent … never saw himself that way. Children need to be taught how to communicate and be given a variety of strategies to cope in today’s world. We have to work together. It needs to be at the family, school and community level. 

Vincent started smoking marijuana in high school. Toward the end of my son’s life, he shared that “pot” had been his gateway drug to stronger drugs. After high school, he was hanging around with a different crowd. During college, his “A” grades started to falter. Then, he lost his job. Something wasn’t right. I searched his room and found what I feared most: Oxycodone had become Vincent’s drug of choice. We had heated discussions that oxycodone was extremely dangerous and addictive. He would show me research that denied it. As we all know, powerful companies can find ways around the law and can state just about anything they want and get away with it. 

The oxycodone amplified my son’s anxiety and depression. He began to isolate himself. He could hardly get himself to go to work or even out of the house. Vincent tried to self-detox and get drug free on his own, failing several times. 

Finally, Vincent agreed his addiction was out of his control. I had so much hope he was going to get the treatment he desperately needed. Over the course of just one year, prior to my son passing away, he would get denied by the insurance company over four times! 

The insurance company stated he didn’t fit “medical necessity.” First, he had supportive parents. Second, he was motivated to get better. By the third denial, I filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office. They were able to get my son 14 days. 14 days … is such a short time to physically and emotionally overcome addiction, and certainly not enough time for Vincent. My son came out and soon relapsed. This time to heroin. 

After battling with the insurance company for months, they finally approved my son. Regrettably, unbeknownst to us, insurance companies are allowed to back-deny services within 30 days of approval. After detox and 14 days, my son was back-denied, stating he had no other mental health illnesses, was highly motivated to get better, and had a supportive family. He was crying that he needed more time. He was extremely anxious and severely depressed. They placed Vincent on anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication, even though my son was denied treatment due to not having any mental health illnesses. 

My son was trying to get better. He went to out-patient almost every day, met weekly with his counselor, and attended meetings at night. 

In the next few weeks, Vincent stayed drug free … he was beginning to be himself again. However, without getting the services he desperately needed and deserved, my son relapsed and bought drugs unknowingly laced with the deadly drug fentanyl. My son Vincent had no chance. I lost my shiny star, my beautiful son, Vincent on Sept. 13, 2017. Last month would have been his 28th birthday. 

Vincent’s battle is one like too many others. In his honor, I advocate for change. He had so many barriers making it so difficult to get the help he needed: whether it be getting denied Suboxone for detox, incorrect information to determine appropriate services, or getting the Vivitrol shot to help prevent relapse. No one should ever have to fight so hard for the basic human right to health care. 

Insurance companies need to be held accountable. They need to cross reference information for accuracy prior to denying inpatient treatment. They need to comply with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. Federal law states that anyone with a mental health illness or the disease of addiction should get the same basic human rights to healthcare as those who have regular medical conditions. 

I couldn’t imagine if my son or anyone’s child had a regular health disease such as diabetes, a heart condition or cancer that they would get denied the medical care they needed, if they had a supportive family and were motivated to get better.

Over 200 loved ones die from an overdose every single day. We don’t have the luxury of time. In order to create any meaningful change, we need you to be a part of making a difference in our community. Your voice needs to be heard. It is so powerful and very important. If you truly want to see change … Reach out to your local and state representatives, ask them what their action plan is, and hold them accountable. Let them know how important it is for you and your children to have a future where everyone has the same right to get the care they need to be healthy. 

It is my hope that by sharing my son’s story, I can raise awareness, encourage the importance of communication, education and most importantly equality for basic human right to healthcare. 

Sharon Richmond lives in Northport and is part of the Town of Huntington’s Opioid Task Force. She is also a member of the Northport-East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force. She works closely with F.I.S.T (Families In Support of Treatment), LICADD (Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence), FCA (Family and Children’s Association),  the North Shore CASA (Coalition Against Substance Abuse) and Nassau County Heroin Prevention Task Force. She is a teacher at North Shore Schools in Nassau County.

Benefit concert rakes in $55,000 for Suffolk County Crimestoppers

By Rebecca Anzel

The first thing Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron does when he gets to work each morning is check the communications section log, which tracks all significant events from the night before. More often than he would like, he reads that at least one young adult died from drug-related causes. And almost every time he is in a police car, he hears a call about an overdose on the radio.

“It is unprecedented — the opioid crisis affects everybody,” Cameron said over the sound of “Walking in Memphis” playing in the background. “We absolutely have to do something about it.”

The Emporium in Patchogue was filled with almost 600 people Thursday night, all there to listen to Billy Joel and Led Zeppelin cover bands, who were there to raise money for SCPD’s Crime Stopper’s four-month-old narcotics tip phone line, 631-852-NARC, which has already received nearly 900 tips — so much that the SCPD added detectives to investigate leads.

Teri Kroll lost her son Timothy to a heroin overdose in 2006. Photo by Rebecca Anzel
Teri Kroll lost her son Timothy to a heroin overdose in 2006. Photo from Teri Kroll

The original Suffolk County Crime Stoppers tip line generated a lot of helpful leads, Cameron said, but residents did not realize they could use the number to call in narcotics-related ones. Now, narcotic search warrants are up 100 percent this year, he said, and the amount of reward money given to those who called in tips leading to an arrest was higher than it had been in the past 20 years.

The benefit concert raised $55,000 in one night, all of which funds rewards. Donations are the sole way rewards are funded.

Michael DelGuidice, a Miller Place resident and front-man of Billy Joel tribute band Big Shot, said that the night’s concert was the right way to start fighting the county’s heroin epidemic, but stressed that it needs to be just the beginning of more action.

“As parents and fellow Long Islanders, we need to do something,” he said. “It’s going to be a fight, and it’s going to take a lot of collaboration, but we need to think of future fundraising efforts too.”

Teri Kroll’s son Timothy died at age 23 from a heroin overdose on Aug. 29, 2009. He became addicted to oxycodone after a doctor prescribed it to help alleviate the pain from his migraines. When his parents found out, they took the drugs from him and began the process of helping him recover, but they did not know he had turned to heroin.

The doctor, Seji Francis, was sentenced to six months in prison and deported after Timothy reported him to police. But during the process of helping her son and the detectives, his mother said there were no resources for her to turn to for help; no other mothers to call. There was a stigma around heroin addiction that there does not seem to be now.

“This event allows us to let our guard down, relax and know we’re doing a good thing at the same time.”–Teri Kroll

“The whole thing was hard on my family, but my son suffered the worst. Speaking out about this is my mom job for Timothy,” said Kroll, who is now the PUSH Coordinator for the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. “This event allows us to let our guard down, relax and know we’re doing a good thing at the same time.”

She added that if Timothy was at the event, he would be smiling and dancing with whoever was around him.

“The room was packed – and Michael DelGuidice gets it, and is willing to speak out on behalf of the disease of addiction and put his time an energy in the fight against what drives this epidemic – the drug dealers,” Kroll said. “The Suffolk County Police Department and Suffolk County Crime Stoppers have made it easy to report the dealers – proving zero tolerance in Suffolk County. We are attacking this epidemic from all sides, just what Timothy would have liked to see.”

Louis Iacona, president of Long Island Helps Recovery Initiation, said this event was a fun way to raise money and awareness about Suffolk County’s heroin problem. He struggled with the drug and found there were not a lot of resources available to help him recover.

“We need to smash this heroin epidemic to smithereens,” Iacona said.

Smithtown resident Nick Santoria, guitarist for Led Zeppelin cover band Zofolk, said the band was grateful to be invited to play at such an important event.

“We love to partake in such a great cause,” he said. “Crime Stoppers is doing such a great job and we wanted to help in any way we could.”

Residents can report tips or information regarding past crimes and drug dealing anonymously by calling 1-800-220-TIPS. Rewards of up to $5,000 will be issued.

By Elana Glowatz

A 24-hour substance abuse hotline went live on April 1, providing Suffolk County residents with a new resource to help with battling addiction.

The Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence is operating the new hotline — 631-979-1700 — and will help callers get screenings, referrals and follow-ups, directing them to local resources that will help them or loved ones overcome addiction.

A flyer advertises a new substance abuse hotline. Image from the Suffolk County health department
A flyer advertises a new substance abuse hotline. Image from the Suffolk County health department

Officials announced the initiative at the end of February, calling it a partnership between the county, Stony Brook Medicine and the state’s health department, as well as private and public community partners in the substance abuse field. Those officials said having a single phone number for all those resources is key.

“This initiative will provide [the] opportunity for addicts to reach out during their time of need and access treatment and support options easily,” Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said in a previous statement. “Often, there is a critical and brief period of time when a person sees clarity and makes the decision to seek help. This hotline can be fertile ground for change and recovery as it can quickly link residents to crucial health care services.”

LICADD itself noted in a recent statement about the hotline that “the time to seek treatment is ‘now’” and that sometimes the “now” is late at night, early in the morning or on weekends or holidays. The agency also said that the period in which an addict is willing to get treatment could close without immediate help, due to “the pathology of denial, obsession and fear which often defines substance use disorders.”

Community leaders have ramped up efforts to fight opioid addiction in recent years while seeing an increase in heroin and prescription painkiller abuse and overdoses across Suffolk County. Those efforts have included more directed police enforcement and informational meetings. Police officers have also started carrying the medication Narcan, which can temporarily stop opioid overdoses and has been used hundreds of times in Suffolk.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who authored the law that put Narcan into officers’ hands, said about the new hotline, “Every second counts to a mother whose son or daughter was found and saved from overdosing. And every hour and every day that slips by trying to find quality, affordable, accessible treatment is critical.”

For 24/7 substance abuse help, call 631-979-1700.

To report drug activity to the police, call 631-852-NARC.

The county health department will provide oversight and analyze data to monitor the hotline’s effectiveness, and identify trends and emerging issues in the community.

At the same time the drug abuse hotline went live, the Suffolk County Police Department announced another phone number, this one a 24-hour tip line for residents to report drug activity in their neighborhoods.

“We are asking the public’s help to fight this scourge, and with the public’s help, we can make a real difference,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said in a statement.

Residents can call 631-852-NARC anonymously to report information about local drug dealers, and authorities will investigate the tips. Even anonymous callers can receive cash rewards for tips that lead to arrests.

“If you see something, say something and Suffolk County police will do something about it,” Sini said.

File photo

The path to overcoming opioid addiction will soon be just a phone call away, thanks to a new initiative that the Suffolk County Legislature announced last week.

A new full-service substance abuse hotline will serve as what officials called a lifeline to residents battling drug addiction, which lawmakers have been struggling to address across Long Island for years. To get there, the county teamed up with Stony Brook Medicine and the state’s health department as well as the county’s private and public community partners in the substance abuse field to allow residents to call to get screenings, referrals and follow-ups.

The Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence will operate the 24-hour hotline and direct callers to those resources. Providing a single phone number to call for a myriad of resources and services is key to assisting those who are battling addiction and their families, officials said.

“Like many places in this country, Suffolk County is facing an opioid epidemic of historic proportions,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a statement. “We need to tackle this epidemic on all fronts — including prevention, treatment and law enforcement.”

Bellone said his administration has made it a top priority to “explore and launch new, evidence-based tools” to help address the region’s fight against heroin and opioid use.

“The creation of a local 24/7 hotline is now another tool in our arsenal to assist those who are battling opioid and heroin addiction and their families,” he said.

The hotline will become live by April, Bellone said, and the Suffolk County health department will provide oversight and analyze data to monitor its effectiveness and identify trends and emerging issues in the community.

“Every second counts to a mother whose son or daughter was found and saved from overdosing,” said Suffolk Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). The majority leader was the author of several laws credited with preventing more than 1,000 opioid overdoses in Suffolk County since the summer of 2012, including one that gave police access to Narcan, a medicine that stops such overdoses. “And every hour and every day that slips by trying to find quality, affordable, accessible treatment is critical.”

Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said the initiative is essential, as heroin deaths in the county have nearly tripled since 2010.

“This alarming data demands our immediate attention,” he said. “A centralized hotline for people in crisis is a critical step toward saving lives, but we must do more. My colleagues and I look forward to our continued work with both the county executive and officials from Nassau County as together we fight to stem Long Island’s heroin epidemic.”

County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) echoed the same sentiments and said the area’s substance abuse issue was pervasive and touched the lives of more than those who suffered from addiction.

“This initiative will provide [the] opportunity for addicts to reach out during their time of need and access treatment and support options easily,” he said. “Often, there is a critical and brief period of time when a person sees clarity and makes the decision to seek help. This hotline can be fertile ground for change and recovery as it can quickly link residents to crucial health care services.”

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Jay Matuk

As a high school principal for the past 17 years, I am deeply troubled by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s recent decision approving the labeling of a new form of powdered alcohol called Palcohol. This substance can be easily mixed with water or any other beverage, making it a camouflaged cocktail drink that is as easy to make as lemonade or iced tea. On so many levels, I find this decision by the manufacturer, Lipsmark LLC, to market this product a truly disturbing one.

Schools across the nation are engaged in an ongoing struggle to address the rampant alcohol and substance abuse issues that plague our communities. Each year, educational leaders and support staff must be able to identify in our students the physiological symptoms caused by the latest “designer” drugs; each year, it seems some new pharmaceutical grade substance becomes popularized in mainstream teenage culture, and before you know it, you have an epidemic on your hands. Just look at the impact that misuse of opiates has had on young adults over the past few years. I know of far too many school districts that have seen current students or graduates succumb to this or other narcotics. I weary of attending more gut-wrenching funerals for children lost to this plague. Now we have the addition of a powdered alcohol mix, which can be added to any bottled beverage while hundreds of students occupy a cafeteria. There is just no level of adult supervision that could prevent the creation of such a cocktail in school. Adolescents being risk-takers by nature, one can only imagine the out-of-school “drinking game” opportunities this new substance would create as well.

For the last three years, I have served on the Board of Directors of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD). This organization provides outreach and counseling services to thousands of individuals and families facing addiction issues on Long Island and in New York City. LICADD also works with dozens of school districts to provide training, counseling and program assistance to overwhelmed support staff employees (counselors, social workers, psychologists) who are valiantly attempting to address alcohol and drug dependence issues in students as young as 12 years old. We are appalled that such a product has the potential for sale in New York State. Since Palcohol has already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it is now solely in the hands of individual states to legislate this new product and keep it off the shelves of the convenience stores that no doubt would be a prime location for its marketing and sales campaign.

If there has been one constant that I have observed in my 33 years in public education, it is that our schools have always functioned as a laboratory for observing the impact of all that ails us as a society. Financial struggles, broken families, mental illness, domestic abuse, overuse and abuse of prescription medications, teenage and adult alcohol/drug dependence, the rapidly increasing use and public acceptance of marijuana — we see it all.

To be candid, the weight of these issues dwarfs our ongoing public debate regarding Common Core education and the use of standardized testing for student and professional evaluations. I have shared with parents for years that nothing, not even getting into the best colleges, is as important as the safety and well being of our children. We cannot sit by and allow the emergence of yet another product, FDA-sanctioned or not, to add to the growing list of destructive substances that are afflicting our students and their families.

Jay Matuk, a member of the LICADD Board of Directors, also serves as the principal of Cold Spring Harbor Junior/Senior High School and is an adjunct professor at the C.W. Post Graduate School of Education Department of Educational Leadership.

Suffolk officers revive two people days after department puts overdose-ending medicine into police cars

File photo

Jeff Reynolds recently attended a funeral in Huntington for a young woman, a heroin addict who had gotten clean but died of an overdose after a relapse. Reynolds, the executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said two weeks later, the young woman’s boyfriend also died from an overdose.

Drug use has become more and more of a problem on Long Island in recent years. According to a special grand jury report from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, there were 231 overdose deaths from controlled substances in Suffolk County last year.

Opioid painkillers accounted for 75 percent of them.

But an initiative to combat opioid overdoses — from drugs like heroin, Vicodin and Percocet — is already showing promise, just days after it was launched. Suffolk County Police Department’s Michael Alfieri, an officer in the 7th Precinct, responded to a call of an overdose in Mastic Beach last week. According to the police, Alfieri found a 27-year-old man unresponsive and not breathing, and revived him by intranasally administering Naloxone, an opioid blocker known by its brand name, Narcan. The officer also gave the man oxygen before he was transported to the hospital. That overdose victim survived.

Officers Thomas Speciale and David Ferrara revived a woman in Lake Ronkonkoma who had overdosed on heroin on Aug. 5. The 4th Precinct officers responded to a 911 call at 1:20 pm and found the 21-year-old woman in a parked car, unresponsive and barely breathing, police said. Speciale administered Narcan and Ferrara provided additional medical care before the woman was transported to the hospital for treatment.

The New York State Department of Health piloted a program that allows those in certain counties, including Suffolk, with basic life support training, such as volunteer emergency medical technicians, to administer Narcan. Previously, it was limited to those with advanced life support training.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) sponsored a bill, which the county Legislature adopted, that expanded this to include officers in the Suffolk County Police Department, many of whom have basic life support training. A police spokesperson said it is being piloted in the 4th, 6th and 7th Precincts and the Marine Bureau, and 267 officers have already been trained to administer the intranasal medicine.

“Our officers are first on the scene in virtually all medical emergencies,” Dr. Scott Coyne, SCPD’s chief surgeon and medical director, said in a phone interview. He said it is important that officers have resources like Narcan to treat people because “it’s really during those first critical minutes that they mean the difference between life and death, particularly in overdose situations.”

Last Monday was the first day the officers were on the street with Narcan, according to the police department. Alfieri saved the man who overdosed two days later, and Speciale and Ferrara saved the Lake Ronkonkoma woman on Sunday.

“There was one less mother grieving for her child,” Hahn said in a phone interview after the first incident. She expressed her hope that the program would save more lives in the future.

Reynolds said Narcan works by quickly surrounding opiate receptors, blocking the drug’s ability to access the brain. “The person will experience some withdrawal but the overdose will come to an immediate end.”

Other benefits of the medicine are that it’s inexpensive and there aren’t any negative consequences if it is administered to someone who has not overdosed on opioids, Reynolds said. Signs of an overdose include blue nail beds, blue lips, unconsciousness and the inability to remain upright.

Dr. Coyne said, “Undoubtedly this pilot program will be a great benefit to the citizens of the county and particularly it’s going to result in, I believe, many lifesaving events.” Dispatchers are receiving more and more calls about drug overdoses, he said, adding that 60 police cars now carry Narcan.

Other states have had success with similar programs. According to The Boston Globe, Narcan reversed more than 1,000 opioid overdoses in 12 Massachusetts cities between 2007 and 2011 through a pilot program that allowed substance abuse treatment centers to train people how to use the overdose antidote.

Dr. Coyne said the SCPD precincts piloting the Narcan program were selected because they appeared to have more overdoses. The Marine Bureau was chosen because it serves Fire Island, and the time it takes to transport someone to a hospital could be longer than in other places.

Dr. Coyne and Hahn both said they would like to see the local program expanded and Reynolds said Narcan “should be in every police car,” and even school nurses and parents of addicts should carry it.

For friends and family of those addicted to opioids, LICADD trains people to identify an overdose and administer Narcan through an injection into the leg — different from the police department’s aspirator — and sends trainees home with two vials of Narcan and two syringes.

Reynolds said the best way to prevent an overdose is to not use drugs in the first place, but that Narcan is an important measure in helping those struggling with addiction survive long enough to receive help.

He said Narcan “gives these kids a second shot.”