Catholic Charities of Staten Island and CYO of Staten Island have stepped up to address a drug epidemic by launching the Staten Island Heroin Epidemic Archdiocese Response Team (H.E.A.R.T.) Initiative in January.
“We believe Catholic Charities of Staten Island has an obligation to react to the issues that are plaguing our community and this is one of them,” said Vincent Ignizio, CEO of Catholic Charities Staten Island. “This is touching in some fashion every family on Staten Island. It could be a relative, a friend or a friend of a friend. You will be hard pressed to find someone not touched in a negative way by the heroin epidemic on Staten Island.”
Catholic Charities of Staten Island and Staten Island CYO are partnering in the initiative with Catholic Charities of New York, Richmond County District Attorney Michael McMahon, Carl’s House and Staten Island University Hospital.
In 2016, 90 suspected overdose deaths were reported on Staten Island. It is estimated the actual number is 30 percent higher because the 90 were the ones reported to police, according to the Richmond County District Attorney’s office.
NYPD officers using Naloxone, a medication used to block or reverse the effects of opioids like heroin and painkillers, saved 73 lives.
Last summer, the New York City Health Department released data showing a 66 percent increase in overdose deaths and a 158 percent increase in heroin overdose deaths in the five boroughs from 2010 to 2015. Heroin accounted for 59 percent of the drug overdose deaths in New York City in 2015.
“The issue with the heroin epidemic affects all walks of life. People tend to put drug addiction in one category, and that is not the case. It is attacking every sociological demographic in this country,” Ignizio said.
CYO on Staten Island is educating coaches and athletes to raise their awareness about the epidemic and also is keeping young people in the gym instead of on the streets. Staten Island has a high school CYO basketball program for boys and girls with more than 700 teens on 70 teams. Teens and young adults officiate and coach teams as well.
“We’ve had, over the past four or five months, a few young men that were involved in CYO at many levels pass away, unfortunately,” said Staten Island CYO coordinator Mike Neely. “We feel a lot of times kids migrate toward their coaches and will tell them some of their problems; maybe someone will speak about another person’s problems and not consider it ratting.
“I think everyone knows this is a problem and most people are ready to get involved. Now at least knowing there is a place to call for resources and help, they feel a little more comfortable if someone comes to them.’’
At Carl’s House, addicts speak with volunteers or a certified recovery coach or both, many of whom have battled drug addiction and alcoholism themselves. Andrew Winslow, a 30-year-old parishioner at Our Lady Star of the Sea, has been clean and sober for more than seven months. He now serves as one of three certified recovery coaches at Carl’s House along with Marco DiDonna and Nicole McCarthy. The mission is to find suitable recovery programs for people fighting drug addiction and alcoholism.
“I’ve seen it not only affect people’s lives and their families, but my life and family. I’ve seen families torn apart but also have seen them reconcile. It’s like starting a whole new life,” Winslow said.
“We really feel sitting down and talking to someone is the only way to get into someone’s head that they may have a problem and there is hope. I’ve seen this work for a couple of people since I started working here. They’ve turned their lives around and integrated back into society. They are not only working and living as part of a family, they are thriving and doing it successfully.
“If you help one person, you can call the day a success,” Winslow said. “At the same time, our work is never done and there is a lot of work to do. It’s not going to end. We need to raise awareness and put our hand out for someone in need as it was done for us.”