UPDATE: This article now includes the full copy of what appeared in the May 3 edition of the Wantagh and Seaford Herald-Citizens
Nassau County’s war against opioids will now be called Operation Natalie, in honor of Natalie Ciappa, the Massapequa teenager who became the face of the heroin epidemic nearly 10 years ago, when she died after a party at a Seaford home.
County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and County Executive Laura Curran joined Natalie’s father, Victor Ciappa, at Nassau County Police Department headquarters last week to announce the naming of the program.
Ryder said that the initiative, which began March 1, will focus on providing communities with the most overdoses with as much education, information on treatment and enforcement as possible, and then returning 60 days later with a report on the results of the aggressive campaign.
So far, the opioid hot spots identified by the Nassau County Police Department are East Meadow, Hicksville, Levittown and Massapequa. There have been 28 fatal overdoses, 250 overdoses and 721 larcenies from autos in those four communities since Jan. 1, 2017.
“These losses will not be in vain,” Curran said at the announcement. “Natalie’s death won’t be in vain.”
Ciappa said that it has been frustrating to watch so many others lose their lives in the 10 years since he lost his daughter. He thanked Curran and Ryder for honoring Natalie. “She deserves it,” Ciappa said. “They all deserve it. Let’s turn this around. I think this is the [administration] that’s going to do it.”
Ryder said he would continue to “fight in the name of Natalie,” and that he was counting on people in the community to do their part. “This is a partnership,” he said. “We need the community to come forward and work with us to better protect people from this crisis. We need to reach out to every 18- to 25-year-old who overdoses or gets involved in gangs. Engage with us in private messages or on our social media.”
Based on information provided on Police Department’s social media since March 1, Ryder said, no fewer than five investigations have begun. He added that tips from one of the leaders of the recently formed Commissioner’s Community Council led to the arrest of someone selling drugs in the East Meadow area.
“The cops are doing a phenomenal job,” he said. “But we’re engaging the community like never before.”
Victor Ciappa cannot forget the day his daughter died of a heroin overdose. It was his birthday — June 21, 2008.
Natalie was an attractive 18-year-old cheerleader and singer with an honor roll GPA. The Plainedge High School senior was the only daughter of Victor and Doreen, who also have three sons. She was also a heroin addict. So when she didn’t return from a party that June night, her parents went looking for her, fearing the worst.
They found their daughter lying unconscious on a couch in the garage of a Seaford home — every parent’s worst nightmare. She could not be revived. The homeowner’s son was cleaning up beer cans and other litter from the party the night before, according to the Ciappas.
Three years later, they say they had no idea how serious Natalie’s drug problem was, though they had tried to get her into treatment. At the time, they recalled, they couldn’t find an in-patient drug treatment program that would accept her before she turned 18, and once she did, they had no control over her.
Natalie was one of 137 Long Islanders who died of overdoses of heroin or other opioids in 2008. Last, nearly 600 Long Islanders lost their lives to opioids.
The Ciappas didn’t shy away from neighbors, friends, co-workers or the media after Natalie’s death. Instead they embarked on an awareness campaign with the Nassau County district attorney’s office called Not My Child, speaking at schools and community events.
Their efforts — and those of many others — may finally be paying off. This year, the number of fatal overdoses is beginning to decrease, according to statistics from the Nassau County medical examiner’s office.