For many, like Hofstra University graduate David D’Errico, it started with pills. As a football player and freshman in high school, he tore a ligament in his knee and was prescribed painkillers.
“As I was taking them, I realized I liked them,” the Rhode Island native said. He liked them so much, he recalled, that he continued to take them after he recovered. Throughout high school, he was, as he described, a “pill head,” and would raid medicine cabinets at house parties. “I think I’m some kind of pharmacist, you know?” he said. “Benzos, painkillers, sleeping pills; I had to check.”
D’Errico, 26, continued playing sports, and received a scholarship to play baseball at Hofstra. Still a senior in high school, his addiction grew. At the time, it didn’t faze him. “I think, I’m the man, you know?” he said.
Two weeks before moving to Long Island to begin his Division I college athletics career, he shot heroin for the first time. “This was pretty serious,” he said, thinking the transition to college would solve the problem. “I’m moving out of Rhode Island to New York,” he recalled. “There’s probably no Oxycontin in Hempstead, Long Island. No heroin either, right?” He was wrong.
D’Errico told his story to a standing-room-only crowd in the Oceanside School No. 6 auditorium during an addiction resource fair on March 30. The district’s Drug Advisory/Wellness Council hosted the event, which was co-sponsored by the Oceanside SAFE Coalition and Families in Support of Treatment.
Roughly two-dozen organizations distributed addiction help and prevention information for both parents and teens at the event. They included inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation centers, detox centers, private therapy organizations, family support and self-help groups as well as community coalitions.
Oceanside resident Lisa Klein came with her husband to collect some resource information. She said though her 14-year-old son doesn’t struggle with an addiction, she wanted to stay informed. “It’s scary,” she said about the uptick in heroin and painkiller abuse and how it could affect her child, adding that she liked the idea of the fair. “These are resources to help others that may be struggling.”
In light of the growing need for addiction services, State Sen. Todd Kaminsky announced on April 1 he was awarding the SAFE Coalition with a $149,000 grant.
“It’s a significant issue for our adolescents,” Oceanside school psychologist Joann Vaccaro said of what many speakers that night described as an epidemic of opioid abuse. At the fair, Oceanside school social worker Olivia Cariddi collected as many handouts and information as she could carry. She said events like these help support the community.
In addition to the fair, the event featured a panel of four speakers that included D’Errico, Anthony Rizzuto, founder and executive director of FIST, Kym Laube executive director of Human Understanding & Growth Services and Larry B. of Narcotics Anonymous, who according to the group’s guidelines would not reveal his last name.
It was at Hofstra that D’Errico said he started living a “double life,” explaining that he would practice baseball all day and use heroin all night. During his sophomore year, he overdosed twice. The second time, his heart stopped for 30 seconds before emergency medical technicians revived him.
His coaches put him on personal leave. “They all knew the deal,” he said. He spent some time in rehab and was sober for a few weeks, until, during his junior year, he injured his elbow playing baseball. He was given painkillers again.
The addiction pulled him back in. That summer, he returned to Rhode Island where he said he hit his all-time low point. “I knew I wasn’t going back to school,” he recounted. He started using so heavily that his mother slept in his bed every night, keeping him awake and from choking on his own vomit. “My addiction held my loved ones hostage.”
Eventually, he couldn’t take the pain he was causing his family anymore, and he shipped off to a sober house in Portland, Maine. “That was where the real magic started to happen,” he said. D’Errico was six months sober when his baseball coach at Hofstra gave him a second chance. He was able to graduate in 2014 and get a new start. “My life’s a dream (now),” he said.
As he finished his story he looked into the crowd, which was mostly filled with middle- and high-school kids. D’Errico said with a pained voice: “I remember being just like you.”