The Nassau County Police Department unveiled the results of Operation Smackdown, a massive undercover drug investigation that led to 15 heroin-related arrests in Nassau, including one in Garden City.
In an attempt to address the concerns of parents, teachers and students, the Garden City PTA, collaborating with the Garden City Community Council on Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention, invited Garden City Detective Sergeant James Bartkowski and a representative attorney from the district attorney's office, Teri Corrigan, to present "Not My Child" in the high school library April 6.
How do teens become heroin users? Initially, teens attend what Corrigan dubbed "pill parties," gatherings in which hosts provide candy dishes filled with a mixture of prescription drugs, including oxycontin and vicodin. Most often, teens find these drugs within their own medicine cabinets.
"You would not think twice about locking up a weapon in your home. I urge you to put these pills somewhere where your kids can't get them," Corrigan said.
Once their parents' stashes run dry, these highly addictive opiates lead kids to the streets. On the outside they encounter a similar drug, heroin. The only difference is heroin is about a 10th of the price and offers a "better high."
Nora Ammirati, a paralegal for street narcotics, shared her story, reading aloud a letter she wrote to her son after he was caught using heroin while in a treatment center. Nassau County's Correctional Facility recently incarcerated her 23-year-old after three years of heroin use. Her anger and disappointment captivated members of a disbelieving audience.
As she folded the letter back up she sullenly stated, "I cannot tell you what it's like to call the police on your own child." Her son's heroin use first began with oxycontin.
Corrigan noted the sense of doubt she felt among parents in the room that this could happen to their child as Ammirati finished her tale. However, as the next story unhashed, all skepticism disappeared. Corrigan played a terrifying video filmed at the press conference for the mother of Natalie Ciappa, an 18-year-old senior from Plainedge High School who died of a heroin overdose last June.
Ciappa's mother organized the press conference to insist that fellow parents never overlook the possibility that it could be their child with a drug problem. Bright smiling photos of Natalie, as well as positive reports from teachers and friends, would lead anyone to think otherwise about her drug habits.
But then, Memorial Day weekend of 2008, Natalie suffered her first overdose. As her addiction worsened, Natalie gained the right to deny herself treatment at a rehab center. Upon using heroin again, Natalie overdosed and died.
There are numerous warning signs of potential heroin use. They include missing money, missing prescriptions, altered eating habit, a change in friends, fluctuating school performance, mood swings, unusual sleep patterns, loss of interest in hygiene, itching, chills and nausea.
Many parents expressed alarm as to how to keep their kids safe during secret investigations. For example, they said, the alleged drug dealer outside Dunkin' Donuts on 7th Street is not being publicly reported. Lori Zeno, a Garden City mother and criminal lawyer, spoke on behalf of many parents seated in the audience that evening.
"If I knew something was happening, I would be so upset if my daughter was hanging out at the Dunkin' Donuts. My concern is how do we keep these kids safe while the investigation is under way?"
Corrigan assured Zeno that the DA is aware of the problem. However, if any information about this supposed dealer is released, the operation could be compromised. Such is the case with the identity of the 19-year-old Garden City resident recently arrested for intent to sell heroin.
Detective Sergeant Bartkowski assured residents that if this "A-1 felon steps out of line, he will be sent directly to jail." Corrigan added that this boy is the first heroin foray the Nassau County police have employed in this area. Information he leaks is extremely valuable.
Parents agree that the most effective and preventative action one can take to ensure his/her kids won't be involved in serious drugs is to talk to them. "Let's all be parents first," Corrigan said.
Stephanie Granville of the Garden City High School PTA and Marie Vittore of the Garden City Community Council on Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention organized the event. Many parents urged Corrigan and Bartkowski to present for their children.
"All we need is an invitation from the parents and we are happy to present," Corrigan said.