Presenters Teresa Corrigan and Kristen Fexas, along with team members from the Nassau County District Attorney's Office, Principal William G. Kealy and Assistant Principal Nicholas Grande.
On Wednesday, March 11, the Nassau County District Attorney's Office gave a presentation entitled Not My Child in the auditorium of the Island Trees High School regarding the increase of heroin use in Nassau County.
Law enforcement officials stated they are seeing an alarming trend as there is an increase in the number of young people who are experimenting with and becoming addicted to drugs, especially heroin. This was tragically emphasized last summer when an 18-year-old from a neighboring community died from a heroin overdose. The district attorney's office prepared the presentation to make parents and educators aware of the building problem as well as to give information about warning signs to look for in young adults that could indicate a problem.
"I want to thank the Nassau County District Attorney's Office for presenting such important information to our parents regarding this growing problem," said Island Trees Superintendent James Parla who attended the presentation. "It is important that we all work together to protect our children from this growing problem of heroin use."
One of the speakers at the presentation was Nora Ammirati, a coordinator for the drug treatment alternatives to prison program. Her son has been a heroin addict for three years and is currently incarcerated in the Nassau County Correctional Facility. She spoke of the terrifying journey of having a son go from a basketball-loving teenager with a lifetime ahead of him to a heroin addict with a future very much in doubt. She showed pictures of her son before and after his addiction to emphasize the horror that occurred to him. Ammirati shared with the audience a letter that she wrote to her son after he was caught using heroin while in a treatment center. The letter expressed her hurt, anger and disappointment over the situation. In that letter she also told her son that he could not be in her life until he stopped using drugs. Ammirati said she shared this voluntarily to help someone else from having to deal with a similar heartache and also warned everyone to be watchful as her son's addiction first started when he became addicted to the prescription drug, Oxycodone.
Also presented at the meeting was a heartbreaking and tearful video of a press conference with the mother of Natalie Ciappa, the 18-year-old senior from Plainedge High School who died of a heroin overdose last June. Her mother talked about how her daughter did not look or act like a heroin addict. She had been accepted into Westbury's College of Honors and was an extraordinary singer. Although she had suffered a heroin overdose during the Memorial Day weekend of 2008, she had assured her mother that she was done with heroin and seemed to be moving on. However as her mother pointed out, once Natalie turned 18, her parents were powerless to get her into rehabilitation as an 18-year-old has the right to refuse treatment. She died a few weeks later.
Following the wrenching stories from these two devastated mothers, Kristen Sexas from the district attorney's office spoke of the warning signs that might indicate a problem as well as things parents can do to help keep their children from becoming involved with heroin and other drugs.
According to Sexas, heroin use had declined in the 1990s as fear of contracting AIDS from sharing infected needles discouraged many from using it. Unfortunately it is reemerging as a threat because it is now available in a form that does not have to be injected and is inexpensive for teens to obtain. The two most common signs that something is wrong are missing money and missing drugs - signs that are surprisingly missed by parents. Because heroin can be bought cheaply - sometimes for as little as $4 - parents may not notice a small amount of money missing, attributing it to receiving incorrect change or making a purchase that they don't recall. If money starts disappearing, even in small amounts, parents should take notice. Also of concern should be missing prescription drugs. Parents may not notice two or three missing pills from a bottle, but it's a part of an alarming trend where a group of teenagers each contribute two or three pills and put them together in what is called a "pill party." These prescription drugs are then combined and shared. For many addicts, addiction does not begin with illegal street drugs such as heroin or cocaine but by an experimentation with prescription pills. Is was suggested that parents should handle pills with the same caution as they would if a gun were in the house - going to great lengths to ensure that their children do not have access to them. Other signs to be watchful of are changes in eating habits, a weight loss or gain, a decline in school or work performance, apathy or extreme exhaustion, changing sleep patterns such as nodding off, not making eye contact, changes in hygiene, changes in friends, scratching, chills and nausea.
Among the important things that parents can do is to be involved in their children's lives and to never make assumptions such as, "I know my child is OK because the friend he is with is not the type of kid that would ever be on drugs."
Parents should also meet and know their teenagers friends by having conversations with them, insist that friends come to the front door so parents can see who their child will be with before allowing them to leave for the night, and listening to their children's words and asking what the words mean. Another suggestion is creating an environment at home where teens can hang out, but parents should pop in on the teens and not give complete freedom just because they are in the house. Lastly, parents should trust their instincts. If something seems wrong, look into it.