Compiled by News 12 Long Island's Debi Gade and Brad Trettien
A look at the faces of heroin addicts and their families on Long Island. Go to news12.com for more Heroin Diaries.
McMahon lost her brother, Nicholas, 24, to heroin. A hair stylist at a local beauty salon, McMahon said she still can’t imagine life without him.
“April 5, 2013, that nightmare came true. I never, never thought that day would actually come, at the time I was 20 years old. My 21st birthday was the following month and I lost my brother to a heroin overdose. It was THE worst day of my life. I lost the person that I looked up to; the person that I wanted to be. Nicholas is my only brother, so right now I consider myself an only child.
I can’t believe that when I have a family one day, he’s not around to be an uncle to my kids. It breaks my heart that he won’t be there on my wedding day.”
Green is a recovering heroin addict who started using the drug at age 13.
"My addiction took me to really bizarre and outrageous places. I don’t even know how I’m alive. I really don’t. I had no respect for my body as a woman. I didn’t care what anyone thought about me. I just wanted to get high no matter what. Today my vision is to use my life experience and my story to inspire others struggling with drug addiction. I have a great job today. I’m an outreach coordinator at a treatment center. And most importantly, my mother doesn’t have to be up all night wondering if she’s getting the phone call if I’m dead.”
Home: Kings Park
Ventura lost her son Thomas, 21, to a heroin overdose in 2012. Since his death, Linda helps heroin addicts and their families.
“I was on the train to New York City that morning and I got a horrible call from my son Andrew screaming, sobbing uncontrollably, ‘Tom’s dead Tom’s dead,’ that’s all he kept saying. And I can still remember that tone [in] his voice and [I] hear it every day.
My son didn’t wake up one day and decide I’m going to be a heroin addict; he was an outstanding lacrosse goalie with dreams of playing Division I lacrosse in college. Unfortunately he started using prescription pain pills, which quickly progressed to heroin. Parents need to know addiction can strike any family at any time.”
A recovering heroin addict who is a college student working as an assistant teacher at an elementary school, Smith said from the outside everything looked fine, even as her heroin addiction was killing her.
"Some people tell me I'm lucky, I like to think of it as blessed. I was on an express train going 200 mph toward a brick wall. I didn't get off a few stops before... I jumped off a split second before it crashed."
Ciappa lost his daughter, Natalie, 18, to a heroin overdose. Her death inspired Ciappa to fight for legislation, including “Natalie’s Law,” which maps heroin arrests on Long Island.
“It was June 20th, she was leaving for a party. She said, ‘See ya later, Dad,’ and she never came home. Once you lose a child, nothing is the same. The pain on their birthdays and every holiday is indescribable. That’s why all I want is for people to wake up so not one more parent has to live with the pain I do.
There isn’t a school on LI that doesn’t have a heroin issue. It may be minor. Maybe they haven’t had an incident yet where someone’s been arrested, but trust me it’s in every school and parents need to know that. I hope I’m ruffling some feathers so parents get angry and look into it because that’s what needs to be done.”
Home: Long Beach
A recovering heroin addict, Lilley is a waiter at a local restaurant and devotes time to helping other addicts. Forgiving himself for the pain he caused others, including his mother, has been a challenge.
"I had a conversation with my mother one time and she was hysterically crying and she was saying, ‘Aren’t you scared like you’re gonna die?’ And I laughed at her and I said, ‘You’re right. I am. And this is how I’m gonna die.’ And there was so much peace in that. I didn’t have to fight anymore. I had my funeral planned out in my head. I told my mom the song I wanted played when my casket was lowered and I lived in that fantasy of dying that way because it was my relief. It was my way out.”