Nassau County’s opioid crisis has a new opponent: Long Island’s wrestling community.
Friends of Long Island Wrestling, a Wantagh-based nonprofit with more than 11,000 members, has partnered with the Nassau County Police Department and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame to highlight drug prevention and education.
The campaign will educate middle and high school students about the dangers of opioid abuse and the best ways to prevent addiction, including sports like wrestling that promote pride and self control.
“We want wrestlers to be a solution to this epidemic and not part of the problem,” said Friends of Long Island Wrestling executive board member Kevin Murphy at a news conference Wednesday at Nassau Community College.
The inaugural “Wrestling Takes Down Drugs Day” will be held Feb. 16, 9:30-11:30 a.m., at NCC’s Field House gym. The event, which is free and open to the public, will feature discussions about drugs and vaping, and wrestling demonstrations by Chris Weidman, a former UFC middleweight champion.
Weidman, a collegiate wrestling All-American, said the message of “saying no to drugs” was instilled in him at a young age while playing Little League Baseball in his hometown of Baldwin.
“So I am hoping that if we have the opportunity to save just one kid’s life, and make an impact on any kid out there, it’s all worth doing,” Weidman said Wednesday.
Opioid overdoses have claimed nearly 3,700 lives on Long Island since 2010, but law enforcement officials said the tide may finally be turning.
Fatal overdoses on Long Island fell 21 percent last year, from a high of 614 in 2017 to 483 in 2018, according to data provided by the police departments and medical examiners in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Meanwhile, nonfatal overdoses declined 29 percent, from a combined 2,375 in 2017 to 1,686 in 2018, according to the data.
“But we are just turning the corner and it’s a big bend,” said Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder.
The opioid crisis hit home for Greg Hodulick, a freshman on NCC’s wrestling team, who has lost close friends to addiction.
“It’s heartbreaking to hear that someone chose that path when they could have chosen another path and they could have been something,” said Hodulick, an Islip resident. “It’s upsetting to hear. That’s why its important to make a change for the younger kids.”