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    By: Eric Gross

    Putnam’s heroin scourge has reached epidemic proportions with 38 young people fatally overdosing since 2012 and arrests increasing countywide for heroin sales and possession by more than 300 percent. A huge crowd listened to wrenching tales of those directly affected on Thursday.

    The epidemic has affected scores of families throughout the Putnam-Westchester-Dutchess region. Consequently, a Homeland Security Drug Crisis Roundtable, in conjunction with the Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opiate Addiction, was held in Carmel Thursday evening. For three hours, an audience of more than 200 local residents heard tales of horror from victims and the families of victims of drug abuse.

    Susan Salamone of Mahopac, who lost her son to an overdose 18 months ago, told the gathering: “We must teach our kids that it is not cool to use drugs.”

    The forum was organized by State Senator Greg Ball, who was recently named a member of the state panel. Ball invited Rockland State Senator David Carlucci and the chairman of the committee, Long Island State Senator Phil Boyle to the discussion.

     Ball said: “Many of us in suburban areas a decade ago looked at the drug crisis as a city issue, believing it was not our problem. Now our kids are dying at an alarming rate. We may have done a good job at cracking down on prescription drug abuse but like a balloon—when squeezed down on one end, the air goes elsewhere—now heroin is the drug of choice. It has a cheap street value. Mess with it once and you die!”

    Ball said young people from “affluent families as well as middle class families are needlessly dying at very young ages. This is a crisis. We must join forces and attack the scourge head-on.”

    Putnam Legislator and Putnam Valley Assistant High School Principal Sam Oliverio believes that “parental education is key to stemming the tide of heroin abuse. The first step is to get those addicted to heroin assistance. Parents must get to know the signs—depression, up moods that suddenly crash, teens and young adults who leave the house in the middle of the night for an unknown reason. These are the telltale signs that parents need to become aware of.”

    Eight parents who lost their children to drug overdoses testified. The heart wrenching stories brought tears to the eyes of many in attendance. One woman held up an urn: “This is all I have left of my son. I don’t want this to happen to any of you here tonight.”

    Chanelle Faraselli of Mahopac, who volunteers at Mahopac High School, is trying to get her message of “keeping clean” across to the 1800 pupil student body. She buried her son two weeks ago from a drug overdose: “Paul was only 24. We need solidarity and action here. My heart may be heavy but I will not allow Paul’s death to be in vain.”

    Many in attendance blamed the insurance industry for its strict rules and regulations prohibiting patients from receiving the needed help.

    Naura Slavinsky, an administrator at Arms Acres in Carmel, said a week doesn’t go by when patients have to be turned away due to a lack of insurance coverage. “Even with coverage, some of the insurance co-pays are so high that patients can’t afford to be treated. The situation related to insurance is most tragic.”

    Senator Carlucci agreed that the insurance industry was “part of the problem. There is not a silver bullet to end the crisis but everyone must come to the table with all options available including law enforcement, insurance companies and Medicaid. We must tackle the problem by listening to those who have been through it and met with devastating results. The insurance industry must be at the table with us to help solve the problem.”

    Putnam Undersheriff Peter Convery outlined a three pronged approach toward curing the epidemic: “Education and awareness is of paramount importance, along with making arrests for those providing the illegal drugs and prosecuting those who are selling this poison.”

    Representatives of the State Police as well as Carmel and Kent Police were also on hand.

    Putnam Commissioner of Social Services and Mental Health Michael Piazza encouraged the audience to “educate young and old alike and keep talking to our teens advising how dangerous shooting up with heroin actually is.”

    Mahopac Superintendent of Schools Thomas Manko called on parents to take an active role: “A public school’s agenda is huge in terms of the academic, social and mental health programs. Society places more and more on the school’s plate and we accept the challenge but educators can’t control a child’s home life. We can provide a concrete sense of belonging in school but children are under our care for less than one third of the day.”

    Manko said in Mahopac alone, eight young Mahopac High School graduates – all in their 20s—had been lost to drug overdoses: “This is so sad. A greater ability is needed in order to recognize and remediate and get kids help when they need it. Money from Albany and Washington will help.”

    Ball stressed in order for the epidemic to be controlled, a “total community effort is needed.”

    Last week’s forum was the fifth in a series of 14 being held statewide from eastern Long Island to the New York-Canadian border by the task force. (ARTICLE)