NARCAN Training Accompanied by Sobering Stories

A NARCAN kit and its contents.
Suffolk County Deputy Sheriff William Weick demonstrates the preparation and use of NARCAN kits to attendees at the Sag Harbor Fire Department on Tuesday night.
Suffolk County Deputy Sheriff William Weick demonstrates the preparation and use of NARCAN kits to attendees at the Sag Harbor Fire Department on Tuesday night. Michael Heller photos

By Stephen J. Kotz

The more than 50 people who showed up at the Sag Harbor Firehouse on Tuesday to be trained in the use of NARCAN, a life-saving antidote for opioid overdoses, were given a jarring, firsthand account of the devastation addiction can cause.

Linda Ventura, whose 21-year-old son Thomas died of an overdose on March 14, 2012, described the anguish his death caused her family through a presentation that included a recording of a young man portraying her son, describing a life that moved too swiftly from innocent childhood to premature death.

“It was a disease. It was not a choice of his to continue down that path,” she said. “He didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘I think I’ll shoot heroin and kill myself and destroy my family.’”

Ms. Ventura’s account was bolstered by William Weick, an investigator with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, who led the training while recounting his interactions with the addicts who pass through the criminal justice system, many of whom come from stable, middle-class homes in which the parents, far from being in denial, simply don’t have a clue about what their kids are doing.

In between, Kym Laube, the executive director of HUGS, Inc., a youth development and leadership agency with a focus on preventing underage drinking and substance abuse, called for parents to wake up to the threats facing their children.

“If we don’t change, we are going to keep burying bodies,” she told the audience. “I hate everything about heroin with the exception that it is getting people to pay attention to addiction.”

Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming gives opening remarks.
Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming gives opening remarks.

Tuesday’s event was sponsored by Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, who said she would sponsor similar events in Montauk and in western Southampton later this year. Ms. Fleming told the gathering she felt “blessed to live in a community where we really have each other’s backs,” while stressing that the growing problem of drug addiction had reached the level of a crisis. “It’s real. It’s here,” she said. “Thank God we are all here.”

In the recording Ms. Ventura played, “Thomas” described how he began to lose his center when his grandparents died and his parents divorced when he was young. Although he was a star goalie on his high school lacrosse team in Kings Park, Thomas got involved with drugs while in high school, and pot and beer soon led to painkillers and painkillers to heroin.

He eventually entered a 28-day rehabilitation program and returned home for one day before a planned move to a sober house, but he went out that night with old friends and injected a lethal dose of heroin.

Ms. Ventura described how she received a phone call on her way to work that morning from her middle son, sobbing uncontrollably as he described the scene at home and how she convinced the conductor of her train to make an emergency stop and let her off in Cold Spring Harbor, where a woman she didn’t know offered to drive her home. There, she found police tape across her front porch.

“If Thomas, the addict, was standing here I wouldn’t miss him for a second,” she said, while adding she missed her son every second of every day.

Investigator Weick presented NARCAN kits, each containing two adult doses of the antidote to everyone in the audience. When someone overdoses on an opioid, the drug suppresses the involuntary brain functions, resulting in first shallow breathing and eventually cardiac arrest, he told the audience.

Mr. Weick stressed that it was vital to treat the immediate emergency — that the victim was not breathing — by performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or chest compressions before administering the NARCAN, which reverses the effects of the overdose in as little as five minutes.

While he gave his presentation, the detective told war stories about the arrests he had made and the addicts he had come across. He described one investigation in which undercover officers had a drug dealer under surveillance for some time. One day, he was joined by a young woman. Police eventually went to her home, where they interviewed her mother, who was completely unaware that her daughter, who had been an excellent student and star athlete, was a drug addict, he said.

Ms. Laube said it was not that surprising that the girl’s mother did not know what was going on. She stressed that all parents mean well and all children are good, but that we live in a stressed out world, where parents are afraid to fulfill their roles and their children come under bad influences virtually everywhere. ”What we don’t get is we are jump-starting addiction,” she said of American society.

She said parents need to take a stronger role and not be afraid to be the bad guys who spoil their kids’ plans to party or engage in other risky behavior. Parents need to model good behavior that builds self-esteem in their children, she said.

Ms. Laube said too many parents place blame on their children’s schools — “Kids don’t pick up their first drink or drug in English class,” she said.

And furthermore, she added, often the children who are falling into the abyss of addiction are those who are involved in sports and other extra-curricular activities. “It’s the good kids,” she said, “the kids we say are going to go somewhere in their lives.”

A NARCAN kit and its contents.
A NARCAN kit and its contents.