By Father Francis Pizzarelli
Since my last column, I’m aware of more than a dozen heroin overdoses in our larger North Shore community. Ten are recovering and two others are not among us any longer. These casualties of this infectious drug are young and old, rich and poor, well-educated and not so well-educated, white, black and Hispanic.
The painful reality is that right here in our wonderful North Shore community, our children and grandchildren are socializing with young men and women who are using heroin. Some of you work with them; some others unknowingly have met them on the supermarket line. This drug is everywhere; many of our young adults have connections who drop the drug off at their homes. It is mind-boggling.
The 10 who are barely recovering need to be in a long-term rehabilitation settings — that is, long-term residential treatment programs that are longer than three months. The access to treatment should be yesterday, not tomorrow, or next week or next month; that might be too late.
Insurance companies should not have the right to sentence your loved ones to death. If treatment is recommended by a licensed professional, one’s insurance company should bend over backward to accommodate that referral and pay without argument that claim.
Last year three young adults died waiting to get into residential treatment because their insurance companies said they had to fail at outpatient treatment first before they would pay for long-term treatment! That approach is not only scandalous, it’s criminal. They did fail at outpatient treatment — they died; three great young adults with so much possibility and potential.
Unfortunately, we do not have enough detox beds and enough long-term treatment beds for the epidemic need before us. Everyone is talking about this crisis, but few are doing anything about it. Our elected officials are deaf and blind to this issue. Only one candidate running for office in our county even made reference to the heroin epidemic in her platform. We don’t need another bill that lacks force, or another photo opportunity that gets lost to the archives of social indifference.
What we need is action today. We need people to step up and speak out and to continue to speak out until enough politicians take notice and are really finally willing to do something about this serious health crisis.
How many more vibrant young lives have to be lost before real action is taken — action that truly makes a difference?
What do concerned citizens and caring parents do? I believe we need to come together and provide mutual support for this lethal health crisis. We need to educate one another about the signs and symptoms. We need to remove the stigma around acknowledging the problem and stop the shame and blame game. We need to just care about the growing number of our young people who are being victimized by this lethal epidemic. We need to create a cooperative spirit within our larger community.
We need to network the religious community, the educational community and the governmental community. They need to work together to create resources that are desperately needed for those who have been infected. We don’t have the time to pass the buck; too many lives are at stake.
Fr. Pizzarelli is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.