On September 28th, at Grand Island High School, a community conversation was held on the issue of the opioid epidemic. The epidemic has touched every part of society.
|Dr. Celia Spacone
facilitated the program that
encouraged the community
to talk about combatting
the opioid epidemic and
There were five speakers, each of whom discussed the epidemic from their own perspectives. Combined, they presented a complete picture of a dangerous epidemic that continues to take lives daily. According to statistics, someone in the United States dies from an accidental drug overdose every ten minutes.
- The opioid epidemic affects people between the ages of sixteen and eighty-three.
- The majority of deaths are between the ages of twenty to twenty-nine and thirty to thirty-nine. Cheryll Moore (Erie County Department of Health): We are losing a whole generation.
- The average victim is a 38 year old male
- Between 2012 and 2014, many deaths were due to prescription drugs.
- Now: the deaths are due to to fentanyl, mixed with heroin.
A recovering addict’s story
Alex Neutz, a graduate of Grand Island High School, is in recovery. In high school and at the State University of New York at Buffalo, he played football. He was a wide receiver, who set records in both high school and on his division one college team.
“I come from a loving and supportive family. The pressure that I put on myself led to my issues. If I made four touchdowns, I wanted to make five. If I caught six passes, I wanted to catch seven.”
“I broke my wrist as a sophomore. Pain killers took away my physical pain, my depression, and my anxiety. It numbs you from the world. I didn’t make the NFL (National Football League). I got cut. Pain killers will numb me. It’s OK as long as I have those.”
“I was depressed. I had severe anxiety. I was never happy. You are never comfortable with yourself.”
People in the throes of addiction can “get help, do drugs, or commit suicide.”
“On my 25th birthday, my parents intervened. I went to rehab.”
“We have to get rid of the stigma of drug addiction and mental illness. I didn’t plan on breaking my wrist. It’s not bad people. It’s amazing people with amazing families. I talk at schools. We need to focus on the first day that you started, not the last day.”
“I am at a good place in my life.”
The role of the schools
Dr. Brian Graham, Superintendent of Schools, Grand Island, New York: As principal of an elementary school in West Seneca, he observed that children “were on a path to choose risky behavior in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade. It had an impact on me as an educational leader.”
“We had someone like Alex talk about choices and about the disease of drug addiction. We work with kids who are in crisis. We work with a prevention focus. In the school district, we have six counselors, two psychologists, and one social worker. We focus on physical, mental, and social wellness in seventh grade. In eighth grade, we dig deeper into substance abuse. Mental health is covered. We have a partnership with parents.”
“The post prom event was a safe place to come to after prom. More than 200 students came. It helps them make good choices.”
Recognizing the signs of addiction
A mother’s story
Debra Smith is a parent and advocate. Her son Nathaniel passed away on September 15th, 2015, at the age of 26. This is how she remembers her son.
“I rocked him and sang to him and taught him his ABCs. I took him to the zoo and to Boy Scouts. He played baseball and soccer.” He graduated from St. Francis High School with a regent’s diploma with advanced designation. He went to Canisius College and was a pre-med student.
“He was very mature. He was the last person anyone expected to get the disease. Many of us experienced a medical treatment that went horribly wrong. He had plans, hopes, and dreams. He was the son that every family wanted and should have.”
In 2011, Nathaniel was hit by a car in a hit and run accident. In 2014, Nathaniel had surgery for a kidney stone that was embedded in his ureter. Nathaniel’s kidney stones were an inherited trait.
Pain killers were prescribed. Nathaniel became addicted to opioids. “The family dynamic changes. We are all a little confused.”
What can we do to help our loved ones who are suffering with addiction?
“Educate yourselves. Addiction is biological. It is not a choice. Learn the biological effects that the medication has on your brain. Identify a plan. Use the language of love.”
“Keep them motivated and involved in supportive family events. Tell them what you love about them. Tell them that you miss them. They hate themselves. There is still that drive inside themselves. You need drugs to make yourself feel normal. Use words without accusations.”
“The drug is powerful, quick, and lethal.”
“Let’s fix this. Let’s work together. You are scared and I am afraid that I will lose you.”
“As I stood in front of my son’s casket, I was so sorry that he was gone. He was robbed of his life. I don’t regret how much I love my son.”
How do we save lives?