SHRUB OAK, N.Y. -- More than 100 community members and elected officials gathered on Feb. 7 at the Phoenix House to take action against the “Drug Crisis in Our Backyard.”
Speaker after speaker told stories of addiction, with some ending in recovery and some in tragedy. But all spoke about the easy accessibility to prescription and illegal drugs in Yorktown and other communities, and how much easier it is to become addicted.
“We can’t go to our legislators and ask them to solve this problem. It’s got to come from the bottom up,” said Lou Christiansen, whose son Erik, 28, died of a heroin overdose in June. “I would like to see the young people in our community and in our society start to band together. Because they’re the ones that are being targeted.”
The night also featured a first-hand account of abuse from Erik Christiansen’s best friend, Chris Mancini, who said the toughest part about recovery is admitting you have a problem.
“My best friend lost his life,” he said. “And I’m sure if I told him five years ago that he was going to die from a heroin addiction, he would punch me right in the face. Because he wouldn’t have believed it himself.”
Mancini, a financial representative, said he and Erik, a detective in the New York Police Department, rarely let the abuse affect their work. But he said being “functioning addicts” didn’t make their addiction any less real.
“The first thing I said to myself was ‘I like the way it feels, but I know I will never get addicted,’” he said. “I promised myself, because I’m better than everyone else. I looked at other people and see what they were going through and that’s something I knew that I would never let myself get into."
Mancini said Erik's death was a wake-up call, as it could have just as easily been him that overdosed. He said he has not used drugs or had an alcoholic beverage since June. He credited Erik’s father, Lou, for not giving up on him.
Putnam County Sheriff Donald Smith, who has seven grandchildren, called the forum “very personal” and said the key to beating addiction is identifying it early and knowing how to offer support.
“A lot of these crimes that are being committed to support drug habits are not people that are malicious. They have a disease,” Smith said. “I’m not talking about coddling people, but I’m talking about getting at the root cause."
Learn more information about addiction and support on the Phoenix House website.