Oceanside residents gathered on the Schoolhouse Green on Aug. 31 to celebrate International Overdose Awareness Day, remembering those who have lost their lives to drug addiction.
Dee’s Nursery & Florist provided purple flowers, which were planted by Oceanside Community Warriors to honor the victims’ memories. The Oceanside library assembled a crafting table, where attendees could decorate a rock to place by the flowers, in honor of someone they had lost to an overdose, or write an uplifting message.
This is the third year that the Oceanside SAFE Coalition has hosted Overdose Awareness Day. The hamlet has been deeply affected by overdoses, particularly among young people. That brought about the formation of the coalition in 2015.
“Sadly, we get reports from the precinct once a month, and there’s always some sort of overdose report happening within Oceanside,” Alison Eriksen, the coalition’s project coordinator, said, referring to the Nassau County Police Department’s 4th Precinct. “There are so many people in our community that have been affected by an overdose, and we really wanted to make sure that there was a place where they could go, and there was a place that they can honor those they have lost. There’s a place where they can be remembered, and doing something like this, they’re seen, they’re heard, and they know that they’re not alone.”
As part of the event, Jo Venturelli, director of business and professional development at the Seafield Treatment Center, in Westhampton Beach, offered training on the use of Narcan nasal spray on the Schoolhouse Green. Narcan, the brand name of the drug naloxone, reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Free Narcan kits were given to all who took part in the training.
“I’ve been in this field since I was in college, Venturelli said, “and I’ve never seen what we’re facing now, with the devastation, the loss, and also the drugs that we’re seeing. These designer synthetics, they’re killing people by the hundreds and thousands, and unfortunately, it seems there’s no end in sight.” The tragic upward trend in Opioid overdose deaths has been driven largely by the spread of synthetic drugs such as fentanyl.
“But what’s different now,” Venturelli added, “is that more people are coming together like this. More people are stepping out of the shadows and sharing their experiences. Education is important; treatment is important. But so are communities coming together and not standing for what’s happening.”
Narcan is expected to be available over the counter this month, at pharmacies and grocery stores as well as from online retailers.
Joe Smith is the executive director of Long Beach Reach, a multi-service agency based in Long Beach, Franklin Square and Port Washington that offers rehabilitative and treatment services to young people and their families. The widespread availability of Narcan, Smith said, will be an important step in saving lives.
“I think that we certainly have seen, in our agency, experience of families who have been devastated by the loss of a loved one to overdose, and it’s really a tragedy, and so if anything can be done to prevent that, I think it’s a good thing,” Smith said. “Obviously, we need to have all the resources available, including treatments, other prevention activities, education, and efforts to combat this scourge. In society now more than ever, it is critically important that we make those resources available to everyone.”
The SAFE Coalition has new programs that it will implement this school year, including partnering with the Oceanside school district in a Parenting of Teens program, a support group program for parents of middle and high school students. The coalition will also continue its Teen Intervene program, which serves as an intervention service and an alternative to school suspension policies, offered to students who has are caught vaping or using other banned substances on school grounds.
“Instead of students being suspended and sent home,” Ericksen explained, “they’re given the option to go through the program to figure out if something is actually really wrong.”
The SAFE Coalition also focuses on combating underage drinking and marijuana use, which group leaders have found are two of the most often abused substances, and are known as gateways to harder drugs. Oceanside SAFE aims to change the social norms and stigmas that go with addiction — and being a parent of a child dealing with addiction.
“You learn a lot through Narcan training, but I think that the important part, too, is eradicating the stigma that it’s only for a specific group,” Eriksen said.
“The more that people come together and say this is something they’ve experienced, too, it’s not a lonesome, isolating feeling, and it’s more of a community approach to make sure it’s preventive, and that we know more about it, we know how to stop it and we know how to reduce it.”