Forum to eye heroin, prescription drug abuse

Susan Roethel, founder of the drug abuse awareness Susan Roethel, founder of the drug abuse awareness group Fallen On Long Island, remembers her daughter Sydney (in photo behind) who died from a heroin overdose at her Huntington home. (Sept. 21, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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The overdose deaths of at least four Huntington Town residents in less than a year has sparked concerns the community has fallen prey to a dubious Long Island trend -- deadly heroin and prescription drug abuse.

"The kids are dropping dead left and right," said Susan Roethel, of Huntington. Her daughter Megan, 22, died in May of a heroin overdose.

After her daughter's death, Roethel responded by helping start a group to raise awareness about the dangers of heroin and prescription drug abuse.

She will discuss the problem with other parents, relatives and community leaders Friday night during a forum at St. Patrick's Church in Huntington village, where she will represent her group, The Fallen on Long Island. The goal, Roethel said, is to bring attention to the continuous scourge of drug addiction and often deadly overdoses in Huntington and across Long Island.

Drug counselors will be on hand to lend their expertise at the forum, which runs from 7 to 10 p.m. at the church. Information about Long Island drug treatment and outreach programs will also be available, Roethel said.

The church would seem a natural fit for the forum. So far this year, the Rev. Stephen Donnelly said, he has presided over nine funerals and Masses for young people -- all under the age of 25 -- who died of drug overdoses.

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"It has really escalated this year," Donnelly said.

The drug overdoses in Huntington mirror a wider pattern across Suffolk and Nassau counties, officials said.

In Suffolk, heroin and other opiate-related deaths nearly doubled from 118 to 217 from 2010 to 2011. The number of deaths among people 29 and younger showed a similar spike, from 33 deaths to 60 in the same period.

In Nassau, it's not much different. Heroin and other opiate-related overdoses surged from 97 to 128 for the same period.

"We don't know what it's going to take for kids to wake up and say 'two of my friends died. Looked at what their families are going through.' . . . That's why we want to speak out about it," said Kayla Nugent, 22, of Huntington Station, who found her brother Drew, just 18, dead in his bed after he overdosed in August 2011 on Opana, the brand name for oxymorphone, a powerful prescription painkiller.

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Relatives of some of the young people who died this year will share their family struggles at the forum.

Their stories are similar. It began with marijuana, then taking prescription drugs. Megan Roethel and Richie Ramirez, 22, of Huntington Station, moved on to heroin, said their mothers.

In January, Ramirez's mother, Donna, 62, found him dead on his bedroom floor of a heroin overdose after she went to wake him so he wouldn't miss his drug rehabilitation appointment.

"It's so hard to get them off it," she said.

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Kerry St. George, of Centerport, said her son Corey, 21, checked himself into a rehab facility and stayed for 90 days earlier this year. But he lost the fight with his addiction, his mother said, and died from an overdose of Xanax in June.

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"He tried so hard, but he couldn't shake it," St. George said. "My son tried his very best. He truly did his very best."

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