Heroin epidemic needs urgent attention

Heroin epidemic needs urgent attention

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

It is only February of the new year and yet it is hard to believe that more than a dozen young people from our larger community have died prematurely from reckless decision-making and heroin overdoses.

Researchers in Suffolk County are saying that at least one person a day is dying of a heroin overdose. School districts are training their faculty and staff on how to use Narcan — that new nasal spray that is literally bringing people back to life. One local not-for-profit agency recently trained more than 60 members from the Port Jefferson community on how to use this miracle nasal spray.

Slowly, people seem to be finally recognizing the seriousness of this infectious epidemic. Parents are moving beyond their denial and painfully realizing that this affliction is threatening their children’s livelihood and is here to stay.

Awareness is rising but unfortunately at a snail’s pace; law enforcement and our criminal justice system are finally seeing this epidemic as it should be seen — as a serious health crisis, not as a crime.

Unfortunately, insurance companies continue to have the power over people’s lives with no accountability. They continue to determine, even though it’s supposed to be against the law, who lives and who dies, who gets access to residential drug and alcohol treatment and who doesn’t.

A few months ago, a desperate family sought my assistance for their 25-year-old son T.J. who was a hard-core heroin addict — and they didn’t have a clue! He almost died and finally was open to serious treatment. He said to his mom, “I will do whatever it takes to take back my life and live again!”

Unfortunately, I did not have a bed immediately available — our waiting list has 25 people on it and it is growing exponentially every day. I suggested a number of well-respected, short-term residential rehabilitation centers within our larger community.

Their insurance company would not pay for a short-term residential rehabilitation center until T.J. tried an intensive outpatient program. He did that; on the third day he failed. He overdosed on heroin and died.

Heroin is like no other drug on the street today. People trying it once are becoming hooked. It is destroying children, mothers and fathers and whole families. Bright kids, athletes, the rich and the poor — this drug knows no parameters or boundaries. Anyone who uses it is vulnerable for destruction.

This reprehensible policy is sentencing more and more heroin addicts to a premature death. T.J.’s insurance company should be held accountable and charged with his death!

As a community, we must stand up and say “No more!” What will it take? How many more bright, talented young people have to die before the people in power are ready to do something that really will make a difference?

Recently, at a local community meeting, Sen. Kenneth LaValle said that the State Senate was going to make the heroin epidemic a number-one priority on their agenda this year. Let’s storm the State Senate and the Governor’s office with letters and emails urging and demanding that they act now before another family buries a young person with a limitless possibility and promise.

Fr. Pizzarelli is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.