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Kings Park in the kNOw

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.”

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Linda Ventura, center, holds up a picture of her son Thomas, who overdosed on heroine three years ago. She will be one of the many speakers at a Kings Park drug forum in March. File photo

By Jenni Culkin

A forum will be held at William T. Rogers Middle School, 97 Old Dock Road, Kings Park, on Wednesday, March 4, at 7 p.m., with the hope of keeping the next generation of Kings Park residents safe and informed, event organizers said.

The event is going to be geared toward middle school students and their parents, making a point to intervene while the middle school students of Kings Park are still young and impressionable.

“The best way to stop addiction is through prevention,” says Kimberly Revere, president of Kings Park In The kNOw.

Attendees can expect Kym Laube, the executive director for Human Understanding & Growth Services, to speak to the parents about understanding trends in addiction and other decisions that have potentially destructive outcomes. She will also be discussing the role that parents play in their teenagers’ attitudes and provide them with the tools and information that they need to navigate the challenges of their children’s teen years.

“Parents are still the number one influence on their teenagers,” Laube said.

There’s also going to be a speaker for the adolescent attendees. Linda Ventura, a mother who lost her son to an overdose. She will be sharing the journey that she and her family went through.

Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) will also be speaking. All of the attendees will listen to a brief overview of laws like the Social Host Law and the 911 Good Samaritan Law that affect those who are involved with, or know somebody who is involved with, drugs and alcohol. Trotta is a retired Suffolk County police detective who was assigned to the FBI’s Violent Crime Task Force for over 10 years.

In The kNOw’s goal is for each of the communities in the state to take care of itself in order to take care of the overall problem.

Even those who have no substance abuse are still affected, and they are advised to attend to learn about what the community can do to prevent any possible damage.

“We are facing an opiate epidemic in this country,” Revere said. “Something has to be done.”