Long Island community learns to use opioid antidote

Northport, Long Island, is a small village on the North Shore that's fighting a big war against heroin use. Now this community is coming together to try to stop it.

"Over the last 3 to 4 years especially there has been an explosion of heroin use not only in Northport but all of Suffolk County," says Northport Village Police Chief Bill Rica. He says responding to overdose calls has become a regular part of the job. "There is no longer the stigma of the needle, the quote junkie, because they can snort it or they can ingest it," he adds.

Over the past 8 years, there has been a 98-percent increase in overall drug cases in Northport. Even more shocking, Suffolk County has the most heroin overdoses than any other county in New York State.
More than 300 people died from heroin overdoses in a 60-month period from 2009 to 2013.

"My fear is that when the statistics come out for '14 and '15, that those numbers are going to go even higher," Rica says.

To help combat the problem, Northport EMTs like Joe Pansini and Lyndsey Ciaccio are armed with Narcan, the drug that reverses an opioid overdose.

"We have a tube of medication, twist it into a syringe, which you attach to a nose device, you put it up the patient's nose and you squirt half in one nostril and half in the other," Ciaccio explains. "Within a few minutes they should come around."

But time is of the essence and not every patient can be saved.

Corey Lee St. George, 21, died of a drug overdose in June of 2012. His brother, Darryl St. George, is a history teacher at Northport High School.

"I was a teacher when my brother was here, and I had a real hard time with what he was doing while he was a student here. I took a leave of absence and enlisted in the Navy," St. George says. "We deployed to Afghanistan. And one of our missions over there was the confiscation of poppy. Because Afghanistan produces over 90 percent of the world's heroin. There is a twisted, tragic irony in that. While I was fulfilling that mission, I lost a student to a heroin overdose and my brother began using. When I came home not long after, my brother had passed away."

St. George returned to the classroom and used his family's tragedy as a teaching moment. He co-founded Project 72, an anti-drug task force with Tammy Walsh, a fellow Northport teacher who has a son in recovery.

The two of them called a summit at the Northport High School library. Students and parents from Kings Park, Commack, Cold Spring Harbor, and Walt Whitman came to have an honest conversation about heroin abuse. Everyone in attendance went through Narcan training. At the end of the night, the students who were 18 or older could leave with a Narcan kit.

"Unfortunately I will have to, yes, keep it with me at all times just in case it does happen and now I know how to use it," says Matthew Altano, a Northport High School senior.

Alexandra Ahlstrand, a senior, said: "They would really do this in every school. I am thankful to come here as a Northport student to be here and that they have this program."

"A lot of districts either don't want to face that there is a problem or they're reactive," teacher Tammy Walsh says. "So I think that Northport taking the initiative is proactive and knowing that we are facing a problem."

It's an aggressive approach to a growing problem. But these students are on the front lines, waging a war against drugs, and hopefully have the tools to save a life.

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