YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Two drug overdoses a month apart last year bonded two families and communities to a common cause. On Thursday, they will bring their message to Yorktown with a "Drug Crisis in Our Backyard" community forum.
The forum, which begins at 7 p.m. in the Pheonix Academy at 3151 Stoney St., was created by separate families from Mahopac and Somers, who each lost a son to a drug overdose in 2012. The Salamones of Mahopac lost their son Justin, 29, on May 29, after he overdosed on heroin. The Christiansens' son, Erik, 28, died from a heroin overdose on June 9. Erik’s father, Lou, reached out to the Salamone family after reading a letter from Susan Salamone in a local newspaper.
“What we felt needed to be done was to educate the public,” said Lou Christiansen. “If you have a problem you know where to go. I wanted to reach out to the people that don’t have a problem and have children and to wake them up to what’s going on in our community.”
Christiansen said there is a stigma attached to substance addiction and the first instinct for many people is to hide it rather than be honest.
“When my son was in rehab, my wife was out one night and a young guy came up to her and said ‘I went to high school with Erik, how’s he doing?’” Christiansen said. “She was going to say he’s fine; he’s a detective now. Instead, she said ‘you know he’s actually having a problem now.’ And she actually felt better doing that as opposed to automatically hiding it.”
Christiansen’s son had been to rehab twice for his Oxycodone addiction and died the first time he tried heroin.
“I just want to wake people up,” he said. “You can buy it right here in Yorktown."
Yorktown Heights-based group Alliance for Safe Kids (ASK) is helping to support the event.
"I think the most important thing is trying to get people to understand what they can do to help. And I think the Feb. 7 forum, that’s what this is all about," said Lisa Tomeny, ASK's executive director. "Another fear for people who want to help is they're not quite sure what to do."
Christiansen, a retired New York Police Department narcotics officer, said Westchester's Crime Analysis unit reported 54 deaths in 2012 directly attributed to drug overdoses. He believes the number would be even larger if accidents, suicides, diseases and other drug-related deaths were factored in.