Sharon Sieckouski paused several times to compose herself while telling the story of how she lost her son Jonathan to a heroin overdose nearly three years ago.
“He started in high school, experimenting with drugs and before we knew it, it was so out of control,” said the 52-year-old Massapequa woman. He went to rehab but relapsed a year later.
“Heroin took his life away,” she said. He would have been 25 next Tuesday.
She and three other parents shared similar stories Wednesday during an emotional press conference at South Oaks Hospital in Amityville where a local lawmaker announced they would form a new Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse Relief Task Force.
Assemb. Joseph Saladino (R-Massapequa) said the panel will include parents, law enforcement and health professionals who will work together to help come up with solutions to stem the drug epidemic that has gripped Long Island.
“We need the help of parents,” Saladino said, “with the guidance of the counseling and rehabilitation community to make sure that are kids get this very important message.”
Saladino—who recently introduced a bill that would require parents of high school students to give their children an annual drug test—said he wants to empower parents, and not “intrude upon” children.
“We must have that conversation,” he said, “to let them know how incredibly dangerous experimenting with heroin and prescription drugs can be.”
Holding a picture of her son Timothy in a graduation cap and gown was Teri Kroll of Copiague, who lost her son two years ago this month.
“I was with him when he took his last breath,” she said, “I was with him when he took his first breath. I miss him like hell.”
Timothy became chemically dependent upon prescription painkillers that were first prescribed to him by Dr. Saji Francis, who was jailed for six months last year after being convicted of illegally selling prescriptions.
In four months her son was “totally addicted,” she said. He switched to heroin after prescription drugs were no longer available to him.
Joining the two mothers was Bob LaGrega of Melville, whose daughter Brittany died eight months ago after an overdose.
“We just couldn’t stop it,” he said.
LaGrega said his daughter was a “happy go lucky” girl who loved the water. Sitting at a table adjacent to the podium, LaGrega clenched a photograph of his daughter, who was wearing her Cold Spring Harbor high school Crew team uniform, smiling and holding a red, white and blue paddle.
“She was unbelievable,” he said, of Brittany who started playing at 16, and died six years later.
Experts said the best way parents can combat substance abuse is by talking to children about the dangerous effects of drugs—especially this time of year, before school starts.
A “protective factor can be something as simple as having dinner together every night,” said Dr. Kristie Golden, vice president of Ambulatory Services at South Oaks Hospital.
Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said he hopes the panel helps find answer as to why there isn’t enough detox and rehab beds on LI, as well as difficulties dealing with insurance companies.
“We’re not the first parents to lose our children to drug addiction,” said Kroll. “But we really, really would like to be among the last.”