Large Turnout For Meeting on Prescription Drug Crisis
With the stigma attached to drug addiction, Mahopac resident Susan Salomone knows how imperative it is to give people a channel to talk about an epidemic that took her adult son earlier this year.
“It’s really important because so many people are dying,” Salomone said. “It’s right out there in front of everyone and no one is talking about it.”
With that in mind, the Salomones and the Christiansens, two families that lost their adult sons to drug addiction, set up a forum focusing on understanding and preventing drug addiction and the crisis hitting local communities. More than 200 people attended the meeting at Mahopac Library last Thursday evening, with some of the crowd even standing for the roughly two-hour meeting.
The Salomones’ 29-year-old son, Justin, died on May 29 of a drug overdose. Shortly after Justin’s death, the Christiansen’s 28-year-old son, Erik, also died of a drug overdose. Both Justin and Erik’s drug abuse started with prescription pills and escalated to harder drugs like heroin.
From there, the two families who previously didn’t know each other, but were connected by an immense tragedy, worked together to hold the forum that featured five panelists from different areas of expertise regarding drug addiction.
One of the panelists, Nagi Wissa, a pharmacist who has owned a pharmacy in Mahopac for three years, said it didn’t take long to realize there was a drug problem in towns like Mahopac, Somers, Yorktown and surrounding communities.
He said depending on the prescription he receives, he’ll call the prescribing doctor just to confirm its authenticity.
Another panelist, Brendan Tumalty, an investigator for the state police in Haverstraw, said he sees pills “everywhere.”
He gave parents in the audience possible signs to look for that may signal that their children are using drugs. Indications might include behavioral changes to physical warning signs like callous fingers, or rotting teeth, Tumalty said.
And as for heroin, Tumalty called it “downright, the most addictive, nastiest drug.”
Erik’s sister, Karina Christiansen, who is a doctoral candidate in public policy at John Hopkins also spoke and talked about how doctors who prescribe pills unnecessarily need to be held accountable.
She is sending a letter to New York’s governor, attorney general and state legislature to commend them for the job they’ve already done like passing the new Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act and to support and encourage further action to prevent drug addiction. Many members of the audience signed the letter following the forum.
Other speakers included Chris Rooney, who was the addiction sponsor for Erik Christiansen, and Tricey Kushner, the president and chief executive officer of Alliance for Safe Kids.
Forums like the one held Thursday are critical in tackling the issue of drug addiction said Carmel Police Detective Sergeant Jack Harney, adding that education is the most important aspect to prevent drug use.
“Letting parents and young people know what to look for and what to do God forbid it does happen to them or someone in their family,” Harney said.
Lou Christensen said he hoped the biggest thing people walked away from the forum knowing is that there is no shame in asking for help.
“Come out of the closet. If there’s a problem, let somebody know,” Christiansen said after the meeting. “You can’t hide it. There’s no shame, there’s no stigma. Come out, you’ve got a forum here and let your voice be heard.”
And while the forum brought together more people than anyone had expected, the two families said they aren’t finished with pushing to increase awareness about drug addiction to the community.
“This will be a cause we carry the rest of our lives,” Christiansen said.
Adam has worked in the local news industry for the past two decades in Westchester County and the broader Hudson Valley. Read more from Adam’s author bio here.