Mary Mingolelli had long been planning to attend Saturday’s Nassau County Recovery Health & Wellness Expo in East Meadow, as a volunteer for a opiate-addiction support group.
Then the Hicksville woman became a grieving relative. Her second cousin was found dead Thursday of a heroin overdose.
“I’m trying to save my ... daughter,” Mingolelli said, referring to a 31-year-old who she said also is struggling with heroin addiction. “It’s unbelievable. They’re dying like flies. Something has to change.”
The substance-abuse awareness and education expo featured booths and tables from drug and alcohol treatment agencies, counselors and support groups from throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties, and New York City.
“The best way to attack this is educating ourselves,” Eden Laikin, liaison to Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano for drug-prevention efforts, said of the opioid epidemic. “People need to know what to look for and where to go to find help.”
The county’s first expo of its kind came a day after Nassau officials said the number of opioid-related deaths in the county rose from 177 in 2015 to a record 195 in 2016.
Mingolelli said her daughter Victoria Evans has overdosed twice. Mingolelli and her second cousin — whom she didn’t want to name — had sought help multiple times, but they typically found that the detox centers they contacted were full, Mingolelli said.
“When you try to get in, there’s no bed, or they say, ‘We don’t accept this coverage or that coverage,’ ” she said. “Somebody who says they’re ready for help needs to get help right then.”
Michael Lohan, the father of actress and singer Lindsay Lohan, who grew up on Long Island and battled Adderall and alcohol dependency, spoke at the event. More federal money to expand detox, treatment, education and prevention is critical, he said in an interview.
“This is not something we can wait for any longer,” said Lohan, who has been in recovery from alcohol and cocaine addiction for 12 years. “More and more people are dying.”
Pat Martino, 55, of Farmingdale, said he probably would be dead if his family last year hadn’t gotten him into detox.
His addiction to opiates began in 2008 with a prescription for OxyContin, to treat injuries from a construction-site accident. He became addicted and turned to heroin when he couldn’t obtain OxyContin, sometimes combining the two, he said. He survived two overdoses.
“I was begging God to take my life the last two years” of addiction, he said. “It just took my soul. And it brought my family down with me. They were tortured.”
Martino volunteers with Mingolelli at a county-sponsored education and support group for Vivitrol, a medication that can prevent relapse to opioid dependence.
Although there’s increasing attention to the rise in opioid-related deaths, many who were at Saturday’s expo have battled other addictions that wrecked lives and relationships.
Lawrence Balter, 22, of Plainview, has been in recovery for nearly a year and a half from addiction to cocaine and Xanax, which he started taking in high school.
He stopped going to school and repeatedly got arrested, for assault, drug possession and shoplifting to pay for his addiction, he said. He added that he stole money from friends and family to buy drugs and frequently fought with his parents and sister.
After an arrest for driving under the influence, he told his lawyer he needed help, Balter said. He entered a one-year residential program with Dynamic Youth Community in upstate Fallsburg and is now in the center’s Brooklyn residential program, going home to Plainview on weekends.
“Our family’s good now,” he said. “We became a lot closer. All that I lost, I got back. It’s awesome.”
Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the family relationship between Mingolelli and her second cousin.