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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

I attended a Narcan training session. This is what I saw.

A small bottle of the opiate overdose treatment

A small bottle of the opiate overdose treatment drug, naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan. Photo Credit: AP / Mel Evans

Jared Mando says he’s lost six or seven friends to overdoses. He doesn’t want to lose any more. That’s why the 20-year-old from Massapequa, a recovering addict with 16 months of sobriety, went to a Narcan training session Monday night. He left with his own free kit containing a drug designed to counteract heroin and opiate overdoses, having learned how to use it.

Two young companions went with Mando to get their own Narcan kits for the same reason. They know they will need them because a heroin epidemic is raging across their social circle, and across Long Island.

That was the consensus of the approximately 30 people who went to the Amityville firehouse to learn about opiate addiction and get their kits.

Drug-poisoning deaths involving heroin in the United States nearly quadrupled from 2000 to 2012, and climbed significantly on Long Island since 2011.

There were parents and grandparents and kids too young to vote. There were school nurses and schoolteachers who wanted the intranasal spray “just in case,” and family members on a mission to save their addicted loved ones’ lives.

Brittany Becker, a community education and prevention specialist with the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, was there to teach, to dispel misconceptions that this plague has not already erased and to talk about warning signs and saving lives.

“Everyone can afford heroin that can afford a carton of milk or a sandwich from Subway,” Becker said. It’s a truth, a way the world has changed. Heroin is cheap, strong and always available for home delivery, just a text or call away.

Becker said people are taking the drugs not out of a self-destructive impulse, as many assume, but out of a desire to “feel good” and block emotional pain. Soon enough, though, release turns to addiction, and people who once took drugs to feel good now must take them to stop feeling bad.

She talked about the three traditional substances that lead to heavy drugs: cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana. Newer ones are opiates like Vicodin and OxyContin, which are prescribed for pain, abused for pleasure and which provide a highway to heroin addiction. She described the path that leads to bottomed-out behavior, and demonstrated how to use Narcan, which helps those overdosing on opiates but has no effect on anyone who doesn’t have the drugs in his or her system. She allayed the fears of those worried they might get in trouble for administering Narcan.

But she did nothing to allay the fears of those in attendance that people they love might succumb to addiction. Because those fears can’t be allayed.

Some asked coolly composed questions. One mother, clearly in agony over a child who cannot stay clean, interrupted with questions, unsatisfied because Becker couldn’t answer her most plaintive queries: “How do you make them stay off that stuff after rehab? What do you do if they won’t stop using?”

No one has great answers. Rehab facilities and programs often fail. People with years in recovery programs (like me) know the majority of new people at meetings don’t become regulars. But sometimes the programs do work. Sometimes they work the 40th time an addict tries them, but not the first 39.

This is why Narcan is so important, and so many organizations are distributing it here. According to Becker, the kits have stopped hundreds of potentially fatal overdoses on Long Island in the past few years. A living addict might just get straight. A dead one won’t.

Schoolteacher Carol Seehof knows that better than most. Three years ago, she lost her 28-year-old son to a heroin overdose. Monday, she got a Narcan kit. As we all probably should, as this plague sweeps through our community.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.

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