Drug Use, Deaths, Draw Huge Crowd to Forum
Drug use and abuse among today’s young people is rampant across Putnam County.
Wednesday evening more than 250 people crowded into the Community Room of the Mahopac Firehouse for a two hour long forum tabbed “Drug Crisis in our Backyard” where prevention, treatment and recovery planning were discussed by a panel of experts.
The forum was organized by two northern Westchester couples following the deaths of their sons in December due to heroin overdoses. In all four young men died, and earlier this month, four new overdoses were reported, resulting in the death of a 25 year old Mahopac man.
Susan Salamone called the death of a child from a narcotics overdose “something that every parent fears. Justin did not have a defective character. Heroin abuse is a disease. People aren’t abusing the drug because they want to. They get hooked and can’t stop. Drug abuse is like the devil.”
Her husband Stephen, choked up with emotion, read a poem to the SRO audience written by the couple’s late son that had recently been found in the young man’s dresser. The poem titled “My Higher Power,” talked about the “demon in me. The fog is thick and suffocating. My only way to a beautiful life is a needle or a knife. This is the struggle. The problem is not going away.”
Joseph DeMarzo, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Social Services and Mental Health, said the problem was “not going away. Education and treatment are keys to eradicating this epidemic.”
DeMarzo noted that heroin was “easy to come by these days and it is inexpensive when compared to prescription medications. This is the marketing ploy of our drug dealers. They get you hooked on opiates which are expensive and when the ‘customer’ runs out of money, heroin is a cheap alternative and you are hooked.”
DeMarzo reminded the public in need of immediate assistance to contact the Putnam Drug Treatment Hotline at 225-1222.
Doreen Lockwood of Putnam Family and Community Services told the gathering when she began her employment at PFCS 15 years ago “three to 9 percent of our population abused drugs and heroin. Today that number is 25 percent.”
Lockwood reported in the past 48 hours five young people had been admitted to hospitals for heroin and drug overdoses.
“It’s easy to get hooked,” said Lockwood who added: “Many times young adults get the drugs from family and friends and when the supply runs out they turn to the street dealers who suggest purchasing heroin. This devastating epidemic will continue until community awareness is promoted about the signs and symptoms and resources available so lives will be saved.”
Lockwood advised of an overdose prevention training seminar planned for Putnam Family and Community Services on Oct. 19.
“We must all work together in partnership to reduce this epidemic,” she said.
Naura Slivinsky, Director of Community Relations at Arms Acres, urged the public to become proactive not reactive: “Resources are out there. When a substance abuse problem is discovered, we are not talking about a bad person trying to become good. It is about a sick person who needs help.”
Marianne Taylor-Rhoades, CEO of St. Christopher’s Inn in Garrison, attended along with the facility’s Director of Counseling and Shelter Services David Gerber.
Taylor-Rhoades explained that Putnam’s drug crisis had become exacerbated because “people don’t know what to do and become frightened. Help is available.”
Gerber called the epidemic real: “For years and years counselors have visited schools and talked with families begging them to listen. The response was always: ‘Not in my backyard! It doesn’t exist here.’ Well, the Salamone story and the Christianson stories tell us it is here. The most recent four overdoses in Mahopac tell us the crisis is here. Until we wake up and express our feelings of being mad, sad, glad, scared and lonely the epidemic will continue.”
Kristin McConnell, executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependencies in Putnam, told the group that prevention education was critical in eradicating the plague that has affected countless Putnam families in recent months. She suggested those in need to call her office at 225-4646.