The Putnam Examiner

Drug Crises Forum Draws Big Crowd, Tackles Critical Issue

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Drug Crises in Our Backyard got another huge turnout for its drug forum last Thursday night, with dozens of people standing in the background.
Drug Crises in Our Backyard got another huge turnout for its drug forum last Thursday night, with dozens of people standing in the background.

With a rash of drug overdoses hitting Putnam County recently, and while it might have only been a coincidence, the timing for a drug forum last Thursday came at the most needed time.

More than 200 people crammed into the Mahopac Volunteer Fire Department for an event sponsored by Drug Crises in Our Backyard, a group that was founded and is run by Carmel residents Steve and Susan Salomone and Somers residents Lou and Carol Christiansen who both lost sons to drug overdoses in 2012 within a few days of each other.

While this isn’t the first time the two families have held a forum focusing on drugs, it’s the first time the event focused on how to tackle drug addiction, rather than just raising awareness. The speakers included representatives from multiple differing community agencies and two rehabilitation centers in the area.

Four overdoses have occurred in the community starting on Sept. 25, and one overdose was fatal on Oct. 6 when Mahopac resident Matthew Ryan Walsh, 25, died from an overdose

“We are seeing an increasing use of drugs in the area. I think one thing that we made some headway on was the awareness,” Steve Salomone said. “People are talking about it, the press is covering it so people are now aware of the problem. This forum is about what to do to fix that problem.”

Salomone was pleased by the large turnout for which there was only standing room for people who attended late.

One of the speakers, Naura Slivinsky, the director of community relations for Arms Acres said she started crying when she heard about the string of overdoses.

“What does it take?” Slivinsky said. “I was shattered.”

Susan Salomone speaks during the start of the event.
Susan Salomone speaks during the start of the event.

She added she couldn’t think of a time where the usage of drugs in a community has been so wide spread and has continued to drag on as long as it has. The message she wanted to get across during the night was that the drug issue is a problem the entire community should face and now is the time to be proactive, rather than reactive.

Another speaker, Joseph DeMarzo, the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, Social Services, and Youth Bureau said the biggest message he wanted to convey was that there is help for people who face drug addiction and support for their families.

DeMarzo believes the use of heroin and opiates hasn’t even reached its peak yet.

“Right now we’re in the streak of heroin and I’m not sure what’s next,” DeMarzo said. “But we need to grab a hold of this and change that culture.”

Panelists noted how quickly less troubling addictions can balloon into more grave dependencies. Most heroin addicts don’t start with that certain drug right away, but rather alcohol, cigarettes, or marijuana, and panelists also noted people who originally are addicted to prescription drugs could eventually starts using drugs like heroin because its cheaper.

Salomone said he suggests parents have a plan for their children and seek professional help.

“Know who they are, where they are in the event that you need it,” Salomone said. “And open up the communication lines with their kids and talk to them about drugs and what’s going on and encourage them to come forward and observe what they are doing and be involved in their lives.”

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