As people continued to file into the main room at the American Legion hall in Mattituck, chairs were pulled out of closets and taken from against the wall to accommodate the large turnout.
More than 100 people from the surrounding communities were there for an Opioid Prevention Program hosted by Michael’s HOPE, a newly founded local organization dedicated to educating people about the heroin epidemic sweeping the nation.
“It’s what we hoped for, but not what we expected,” said Trevor Murray, one of five Michael’s HOPE team members, of Thursday night’s event.
The program was the first of its kind for the group, who has focused on getting people talking about the dangers of opioid addiction and the stigmas attached to it. One way they’ve been doing so is by speaking at high schools, especially in health classes.
On Thursday, Michael’s HOPE members shared their personal stories of how addiction impacted their lives before audience members were trained and certified to administer Naloxone, also known by its brand name, Narcan.
For Paul Maffetone, founder of the organization, heroin affected his life after his brother, Michael, died of an overdose at age 29.
Mr. Murray shared his personal story of addiction, which began when he was 17. He entered a court-ordered rehabilitation program in his early 20s and has been sober for over five years.
Narcan revived Jordan Stierle, also a team member and former addict, after an overdose. While he admitted it took another two years to get sober, he credited the opioid reversal drug with saving his life.
“It’s great, absolutely amazing,” Mr. Stierle said of Thursday’s turnout. “More people need to know. Maybe they’ll tell their friends and family if there’s something similar and take action.”
Following the speeches from Michael’s HOPE, Robert Delagi, EMS Coordinator for the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, gave an educational presentation about the affects of Narcan, when it can and can’t effectively be used, and how to correctly administer the medicine.
Mr. Delagi along with three other representatives from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, handed out over 90 Narcan kits to the attendees. For many, the reason they came is because they realized the impact opioids, such as heroin, are having on the younger generation.
“I’m a high school teacher and a parent, so that’s two main reasons,” Lara Skrezec of Mattituck said of why she attended the training. “I see a lot in the high school. I’ve been to a lot of funerals, because of heroin, in my 25 years as a teacher.”
She added that she hopes people lose the stigma attached with drug addiction and begin feeling more comfortable talking more openly about it, which is one of Michael’s HOPE’s main goals.
Jeanne-Marie Mazzaferro of Riverhead, another educator, and the mother of two teenage children felt similarly.
“There’s still a stigma around it,” she said. “It’s nice knowing other people think this is important.”
For other attendees, the training hit even closer to home. Sal Santorelli of Centereach said he attended because one of his sons is currently in a rehabilitation program for drug abuse. He added that his other son is a nurse, so the training could help both of them.
“I figure it’s something I can use,” he said, adding that he also works in the Middle Country School District. “It’s another thing to add to the toolbox.”
As the event came to a close, Mr. Santorelli was seen thanking the Michael’s HOPE team members for their work, which isn’t close to being done, the members said. Mr. Murray said the next step is just to continue spreading the word and trying to visit more schools.
“If you look at my own story I feel like if I was educated properly on what substance abuse is that maybe I would have had a little bit of an idea on how to ask for help,” said Samantha Paulus, a member of Michael’s HOPE, who’s been clean for nearly two years. “My goal is to get that education out there so that people aren’t ashamed to ask for help when they need it.”
The next Narcan training event is scheduled for March 31 at 5:30 p.m. at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Greenport.
Photo Caption: Robert Delagi, County EMS Coordinator from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, demonstrates how to correctly assemble the contents of a Narcan kit. (Credit: Nicole Smith)