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Leading Massapequa's War on Drugs

Janice Talento and her organization Drug Free Long Island have made a big difference in a short time.

Sometimes the best ideas come from discussions at the kitchen table.

Drug Free Long Island, originally known as Drug Free Masspequa, was born from just that type of conversation. It changed Janice Talento's life.

"We had three children overdose on a Friday night before we met the next Sunday," said Talento, who met at the table with co-founder Vicky Honohan.

Although the kids involved in the overdose all survived, Talento worried about her family.

"We were concerned. [Honohan] had her grandchildren; I had my son," she said. "We were concerned about the epidemic that was running in our area."

The conversation led to the creation of DFLI, an organization dedicated to eliminating drug use in the Massapequa area and throughout Long island.

While Honohan is no longer on the board of the organization, Talento has been a force of nature in the battle against drugs.

She works full time but estimates she that she puts in 20 hours extra a week running the organization.

Drug Free Long Island operates with very little overhead, according Talento, who says the organization uses office space in the that was donated to them rent free. She asks people to donate copiers to print fliers for events. They don't have any paid employees, only volunteers.

She's built up quite a group of supporters for DFLI since it was formed in October 2009, but that wasn't always the case.

Starting From Scratch

Talento had to scramble a bit to put together the organization's first event at the .

"We went to the town, got a permit," Talento said. "We went to the Republican meeting, because it was an election year, and right away everyone signed on."

But Talento needed to get the public on board too.

"We sat at for six hours one Saturday afternoon and handed out fliers," she said. "In 10 days, we were able to get 50 people at the railroad station."

The event at the LIRR station served as a kick-off rally for the group. Politicians, from Oyster Bay Town Supervisor to County Legislator , R-Massapequa, pledged their support. Parents and children carried signs with anti- drug slogans like, "Honk if you want a drug free Massapequa."

Talento has been very persuasive in getting support and the organization grew quickly, officially becoming a non-profit a year ago.

The organization holds monthly meetings with guest speakers, who often come from counseling centers and law enforcement. Recovering addicts often tell their own stories, which can be quite powerful.

More importantly, they've been able to get their message out to as many people as possible, particularly parents.

"Parents need to hear this because there's too many parents saying, 'It's not my kid,'" Talento said.

Talento says she was surprised by the number of parents who don't talk to their children about drugs or admit that it could happen to their own children.

She feels parents should develop trust with their children.

"The most important thing for parents to be able to tell their kids is that there's no question that I will not answer or find an answer to," Talento said. "And if you need to admit something, I'll get you the help you need."

Strengthening the Community

Talento is very upfront about saying, "We are not counselors. When I first meet someone, I say, 'I am your in between.'"

She has built relationships with several area drug counseling organizations and she responds to anyone who reaches out to her in less than 24 hours.

She often receives positive feedback from counseling centers.

"They tell me, five people came in this month on your recommendation," she said. "I also get thank you notes from parents, who've told me we've helped their children."

Talento practices what she preaches and her son was comfortable enough to tell her that he was approached over the summer by someone trying to sell him drugs. He turned the dealer down flat.

"He'll say my mom is president of Drug Free Massapequa, are you kidding me?" Talento said.

The organization is working with , R-Massapequa, to try to pass a bill that will allow high schoolers to voluntarily submit to random drug testing. Talento argues that not knowing about possible tests will give kids a way to say "No" when offered drugs.

Another long-term goal is the construction of a teen center to give area youths a safe place to go.

Talento wants to create an atmosphere in area communities where drug peddlers will be afraid to approach kids. She was spurred in part by somebody she knew in college who attempted suicide because of drug use. 

In just two years, Talento has created new ways for parents and children to get information about drug abuse and help if they have a problem. She acts as a liaison between schools, politicians, counseling organizations and community members..

Despite big strides in a short time, she has no intention of stopping.

"I don't start something without an end goal in mind," she said. "I was always taught that if you start something, finish it and don't ever do something half heartedly. So when I sat down at that kitchen table agreeing to do this, I knew what our goal was going to be and what we needed to get done.

"If I could save one child's life, I figure I've done something."

malcolm kyle December 06, 2011 at 09:56 PM
It's more than fairly evident, and especially to those of us whose survival doesn't depend on the continuation of Prohibition, that even if we could afford to put Narcs on every single corner, it is extremely likely that at least half of them would very soon become dealers themselves. So it begs the question: Why on God's green earth do we continue as a nation to foolishly shoot ourselves in both feet? An appeal to all Prohibitionists: Even if you cannot stand the thought of people using drugs, there is absolutely nothing you, or any government, can do to stop them. We have spent 40 years and over a trillion dollars on this dangerous farce. Maybe you're a police officer, a prison guard or a local politician. Possibly you're scared of losing employment, overtime-pay, the many kick-backs and those regular fat bribes. But what good will any of that do you once our society has followed Mexico over the dystopian abyss of dismembered bodies, vats of acid and marauding thugs carrying gold-plated AK-47s with leopard-skinned gunstocks? Kindly allow us to forgo the next level of your sycophantic prohibition-engendered mayhem. Prohibition Prevents Regulation : Legalize, Regulate and Tax!
Mark December 06, 2011 at 10:36 PM
Janice is an amazing woman! That God for Janice, You have no idea how many lives you've already saved on a daily basis. Stay the course Janice.
Candide08 December 06, 2011 at 11:24 PM
Where is the "war" on LEGAL drugs - like oxycodone, vicodin and all the others that are over prescribed? Hypocrites.
Kristen Ferrari December 07, 2011 at 01:33 AM
While I applaud Janice's efforts, I do think that there is more to it than talking to your kids about drugs. No parent wants their child to do drugs. How many are willing to hear the truthful answers about what their kids are going through or whether or not they've experimented or even done more than experiment? How many parents want to acknowledge that they may be part of a problem or that there are problems in the home and that their child is turning to drugs to feel better? Treating the family and not just the individual is very important. I'm also curious about Mr. Saladino's bill to allow teens to voluntary take a drug test? Unless something is missing from this article, teens can take a drug test now. In fact, a teen can take a drug test but a parent needs a teen's permission to get the results. So I'm unclear what Mr. Saladino's bill will accomplish. Finally, there is Malcolm's point. We've been fighting a drug war for many years at the cost of billions of dollars. Maybe its time to look at in in a different way. Why continue lining the pockets of those making money off of the war on drugs? And let's not forget what Candide08 is saying. How many kids are getting drugs right out of their parent's medicine cabinets? Its the modern day liquor cabinet. We have a real problem with drugs, but is it realistic to think we can eradicate them? I don't think so. Just say No didn't work during the Reagan era. It's not going to work now.
Kristen Ferrari December 07, 2011 at 01:37 AM
I'd like to add that I do applaud Janice's efforts and I'm not knocking her or what she's doing. I just think that there is more to the conversation. I know too many kids in Massapequa who are doing their second and third stint in rehab. Its not working and some of the kids are coming out of places that were filled with gang members and they're coming out worse than when they went in. I also know a few that i didn't think were addicts as much as I think their parents didn't know what to do with them. That may sound judgmental and I hope I'm never in their position, but some of the kids I knew had some pretty major things at home and the parent's felt that it was some bad kid who influenced their kid and made their kid an addict. Denial in its finest form.

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