When Adam Parbus walked through the heavy metal doors of Sayville Middle School as a sixth-grader, he felt irrelevant.
"I was invisible to most people," Parbus, now 20, told a crowd of more than 600 parents and students gathered to discuss the perils of drug and heroin use in the Sayville Middle School auditorium Thursday night. "I did what I had to, to get friends and be cool."
The crowd listened to several speakers discuss the growing problem on Long Island some say has even penetrated Sayville, nicknamed by residents the "friendliest town in America."
Dr. Stephen Dewey of the Feinstein Institute at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Medical System, described the effect of alcohol and drugs on the brain. John Venza of Port Jefferson Station, a social worker and mental health counselor, talked about how parents can reach out to their kids and how to get help.
Parbus said his quest for acceptance, starting at age 12, led him to steal from his parents' liquor cabinet, and later to sell everything he owned - including his Xbox, computer and couch - to purchase drugs.
He said his descent came in part from a lack of supervision. "I was left alone a lot."
Parbus, who graduated from high school in 2007, endured jail time after being charged with possession of an ounce of cocaine.
His substance abuse reached a crescendo in July 2008, he said, when he ingested Xanax, half a bottle of vodka, cocaine and allowed someone to inject him with heroin - he was too strung out to perform the task himself. An emergency team revived him after two tries with defibrillators, he said.
Recently in Sayville, talk of heroin has increased, speakers said. More kids are "expressing concerns for their friends and pushing for it to be addressed," said Doug Shaw, a Sayville High School English teacher who met Parbus in summer school.
Shaw asked Parbus if a teacher could have said anything that would have made him stop. After a long pause, Parbus said, "I wasn't noticed by teachers, either. Teachers need to pay closer attention."
Parbus, who has been clean for more than a year and works 60 hours a week at a brokerage firm in Medford, credits increased media attention on heroin and other drugs for Thursday's crowd. "This shows people are finally scared," he said. "Bad things happen here, too."
Many district parents say they believe heroin is a growing problem. Rose, 46, a Sayville resident and substitute aide in the district who did not want to give her last name, said she keeps her 8- and 10-year-olds away from drugs by keeping them involved in extracurricular activities.
"The kids have the money and they have the means," said Lori Elia, 46, a Sayville resident with two kids in the district. "I think they should all hear about this."