Drug-Free Massapequa recently held their monthly meeting at Marjorie Post Park, where they continued to adhere firmly to their important mission: keeping kids on the straight and narrow when it comes to dangerous and illegal drugs.
Drug-Free Massapequa Co-Founder and President Janice Talento spoke about what drives the members of her organization so passionately.
"Basically, what our goal here is to raise awareness in our local community about the drug epidemic and kids drinking," she said. "We're trying to get parents involved, to tell them what they need to look out for...when your kids walk in, don't say 'Good night,' say 'Hey! How was your night?' Talk to them, and be aware."
Five drug-related deaths among Massapequa youths within a year is what prompted Talento to form Drug-Free Massapequa in October of 2010.
"We said, 'We're done.' We need to make a stand and make people aware of what's going on in our area," she said. "One of the kids that died belonged to a close friend of mine."
Edward Balzer of Mastic Beach was one of the guest speakers at the meeting, and he had a heartbreaking yet sobering tale to tell those gathered.
Balzer's son Brian, a former honor student and varsity athlete, had fallen in with painkillers and heroin after a car accident, leading to a downward spiral of addiction that eventually led to his death via a drug overdose in October of 2009 at the age of 22.
Balzer now visits schools on a regular basis, sharing his son's story with any who will listen in hopes that he will inspire others not to go down the same deadly path. To date, Balzer estimates that he has spoken to over 13,000 kids about drugs.
"I've had kids call me up after I've spoken to them," he said. "They've told me things like, 'You know what, Mr. Balzer? I had weed in my pocket, and the day after you spoke I threw it out and I no longer smoke pot.' That, to me, is a home run."
After Balzer finished his speech to the gathered teens and adults, he added an exclamation point to the proceedings by playing a short video comprised of still photographs of his son growing up, ending with a picture of Brian laid out in his coffin at his wake.
"Heroin, Percocet, Oxycodone...these drugs are available in our schools like you wouldn't believe," he said. "My son made choices that ended up costing him his life."
The next speaker was Det. Pamela Starks, a Nassau County Police Department Community Affairs officer, who spoke about her "Too Good for Drugs" program, which helps students make the right choices when it comes to narcotics.
"This program is for Kindergarten through 12th grade," she said. "It's been in the schools since 1978...it's in 50 states and 3000 schools. I have personally certified 47 [Nassau County] schools; our goal is to certify all 56. Plus we want to certify the parochial schools as well; right now only one out of 20 in Nassau is certified."
According to Starks, the big drug among the Long Island youth this year are opiates, such as painkillers.
"I've had 111 arrests to date this year for opiates," she said. "Last year at this time we only had four arrests."
Joseph B. of Massapequa was the next speaker. a recovering painkiller addict from Massapequa, Joseph shared his journey from the depths of addiction back into the light. Baring his soul, Joseph was obviously quite emotional as he spoke about a subject he knew all too well about.
Joseph started at 14 smoking pot, eventually moving up to Vicodin and other painkillers. As his tolerance to the drugs grew, he found himself needing more and more, finally stealing from family members to support his habit.
"Opiates are an epidemic. When I first started with the Vicodin, I was only taking one a day. Eventually, I was taking 15-20," he said. "If you do them long enough, you don't get high anymore; you end up needing them just to function."
But unlike many, Joseph finally woke up one day and pulled his life out of it's tailspin before it was too late. With the help and support of his family, he endured a horrific detoxification and withdrawal intense pains. However, it was all worth it: he has been clean now for a year and is getting his life back on track.
"I've had a lot of best days of my life, and every one of them has been when I've been clean," he said. "I've never had one good day when I was high. For example, the weather outside today was pretty cruddy, but I had a great day, because I'm not on drugs."