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Hundreds walk at Jones Beach to raise drug abuse awareness

Michelle Moran of Ronkonkoma and Dix Hills residents

Michelle Moran of Ronkonkoma and Dix Hills residents Mary Haenel and Maria Natale walk in the John Brower Jr. Foundation 5K Walk at Jones Beach on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

The stories of opioid dependence that recovering addicts and surviving family members told during a drug-awareness walk Saturday at Jones Beach were eerily similar.

An OxyContin prescription for an injured knee led to heroin and a fatal overdose. Percocet to relieve pain after oral surgery turned into years of addiction. A fatal-overdose victim had realized he had a problem with prescription OxyContin and then heroin but couldn’t stop using.

The second annual John Brower Jr. Foundation 5K Walk featured some of the faces behind the grim statistics of what health experts and law-enforcement officials say is an epidemic of opioid addiction on Long Island.

A record 442 people on Long Island died last year of opiate overdoses, up from 403 in 2014, according to the Nassau and Suffolk County medical examiners’ offices.

Brower, 25, died of a heroin overdose in 2014. His addiction started with a legal prescription for OxyContin to relieve pain from injuries suffered in a car accident, but he switched to heroin after the prescription ran out because it was far cheaper, said his mother, Jody Brower, 55, of Dix Hills.

Jody Brower, who founded the walk with her husband, John Brower Sr., 60, said the couple created the event because “I don’t want my son’s death to be for nothing. I feel a need to make some good out of this. If we could help just one person, it would be good.”

The goal, she said, is to raise awareness among doctors and patients of how highly addictive prescription opioids are, and to get insurance companies to cover more time in rehabilitation, so recovering addicts don’t leave treatment because they can’t afford it.

Saturday’s walk on the Jones Beach boardwalk, which attracted a few hundred people, raised money for Outreach, a Queens-based nonprofit that has substance abuse treatment centers in Brentwood and Bellport. The event raised nearly $10,000 online by Saturday, while more money would come from registration fees and cash donations, Brower said.

Diane Bonser, who is in outpatient treatment in the Bellport center, said during the walk that she only had severe pain after oral surgery for two or three days. But Bonser, 38, of Amityville, said she kept asking for prescription refills of Percocet because she liked the high.

“It felt good and I wanted to feel better and better and better,” she said.

Vaughn Borrelli, 24, of Patchogue, was prescribed OxyContin multiple times after surgeries for a chronic spinal condition, and died of a heroin overdose in 2015, said his mother, Janet D’Agostino, 55, of Patchogue.

“People have a false idea of what being an addict is,” D’Agostino said. “These are not lowlife dirtbags. These are good kids.”


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