A Positive Step


Heroin has become the drug of choice among young people according to Suffolk County District Attorney, Tom Spota. Unfortunately, over the last few months we have read and heard of horrific stories regarding heroin distribution, ...

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Heroin has become the drug of choice among young people according to Suffolk County District Attorney, Tom Spota. Unfortunately, over the last few months we have read and heard of horrific stories regarding heroin distribution, or consumption and death.

A number of communities have sponsored community forums aimed at raising people's awareness and educating them regarding heroin addiction. The Town of Brookhaven recently sponsored a similar forum entitled "Hope Summit."

It was sponsored by the Town Supervisor Mark J. Lesko and Deputy Supervisor Kathleen Walsh. The planners of the evening gathered a number of so-called local experts to form a panel to address the issue of heroin and respond to questions that people from the audience would raise.

Hundreds of concerned citizens gathered on a Tuesday night at the Brookhaven Town Hall. Deputy Supervisor, Kathleen Walsh gave the welcome and put a very human face on this epidemic problem by sharing her own family's pain regarding this issue.

Former Police Commissioner John Gallagher moderated the evening. John Venza, the Vice President of Adolescent Services for Outreach Project, Inc. outlined rather clearly, the problem and its severity.

Each panel member made a statement regarding the issue and referenced the resources they represented that could possibly be helpful to those wrestling with an area of addiction.

Detective Lt. James Hickey, of the Suffolk County Police Department s Criminal Intelligence Unit, was also present and spoke about how our Police Department is confronting this troubling infection on an ongoing basis.

Dr. Joseph Rella was the only school administrator on this panel. His presentation was honest and forthright about the problem of heroin in his community and his school district s commitment to addressing this devastating issue. He was clear that their outreach was not perfect, but at least they were not burying their heads in the sand.

The Comsewogue School District is probably one of the few educational communities that have consistently taken the risk in addressing head-on the social problems of addiction in our community. For the most part, the school district has been cooperative and open to doing whatever it takes to better serve the needs of all of their students.

After all of the presentations, the panel entertained questions from the community that had gathered. As the questions were raised, it became apparent that many in the audience were frustrated and that their concerns were not being addressed.

A number of parents shared their painful stories around the loss of a child to heroin abuse due to the lack of adequate resources to support those battling this horrific addiction. They also expressed their frustration that there were no real venues to confront this epidemic issue. Finding help for their children was overwhelming.

A number of parents expressed frustration at not being able to help their 16 to 21-year-olds because of the way our privacy laws are written and implemented. They indicated that their children were critically addicted to heroin, and that they felt little support in their efforts to provide them with help. For some it was a life or death situation.

After the formal program, I mixed and mingled with many parents and community members, who had gathered. They came seeking direction, advice and some answers. I heard first-hand, their frustration and their lack of access to appropriate treatment, and lack of long-term rehabilitation treatment programs in our county, especially for adolescents and young adults. I heard countless stories of limited access to the excellent resources the county does fund, but these resources don't have enough staff to respond to the growing number of people in need.

A number of people expressed great sadness regarding our schools. They felt that a growing number of school districts are not on board with comprehensive intervention and prevention programs regarding addictions.

One parent was very upset at the double standard in some school districts regarding drug and alcohol misuse. She said when athletes are caught in her community, oftentimes they're given a pass when it comes to the consequences for their poor choices; while non-athletes are suspended or must undergo a drug and alcohol assessment before returning to school.

The Hope Summit was definitely a positive step in the Town of Brookhaven on addressing our serious heroin problem. However, if everything begins and ends with that Tuesday night forum, then we have wasted our time.

It is painfully obvious that we have a serious problem within our larger community relative to heroin. We lack the comprehensive resources to address the problem. We also live in a community where denial runs high.

If that Tuesday night is not to have been a waste of time, we need people representing every aspect of our community to meet on an ongoing basis to support the efforts of our District Attorney and Police Department. We need people to vigorously challenge our schools to protect our children.

We must continue this conversation and face the painful truth that we are in trouble. Parents must become more diligent in monitoring their children's social behavior. When they notice that their children's behavior is deteriorating, they must act expediently and deliberately. This is an epidemic that we can defeat!