'Too many parents have buried their kids': Donovan seeks funding for heroin epidemic
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Like many parents who find their child addicted to heroin, Cecilia Olsen was in denial when her high school-aged son started using drugs.
He dropped out of Tottenville High School, and is now getting help at Camelot Counseling, where Olsen stood with Rep. Daniel Donovan and others on Thursday to call on Congress to pass the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act.
The addiction "has affected my family tremendously, every single member of my family. I was uneducated for a long time, in denial," she said.
Donovan (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) is one of more than 80 co-sponsors of the House bill to give funding to local organizations to address the heroin and prescription drug abuse epidemic.
"Too many parents have buried their sons and daughters, or watched them struggle for years with addiction, treatment and relapse," he said. "It has to stop. As our community's crisis has turned into a nationwide epidemic, it's clear the federal government's response hasn't been enough. Congress must act to provide the resources necessary to turn the tide against addiction."
The bill, which has 29 co-sponsors in the Senate, would give federal grants to educational programs, and for prevention, treatment and recovery.
Councilman Joe Borelli (R-South Shore) and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-East Shore/Brooklyn) also attended, speaking about their personal experiences with friends and constituents who have fought addiction.
Luke Nasta, executive director of Camelot Counseling, applauded the bill, which he called a small step toward "dealing with the whole person."
"We've never had adequate resources to do the full job," of preventing and treating addiction, he said. "We need a total societal and governmental approach to solving this problem."
With approximately one death every four days on Staten Island, if those were gun deaths, "We would be on lockdown, wearing helmets, not coming out of our houses," Nasta said.
Also present was a representative from Sen. Lanza's office, as well as Rose Kerr, Borough President James Oddo's director of education, and Dr. Ginny Mantello, Oddo's health and wellness director.
Speaking about the school pilot program "Too Good For Schools," Kerr said Staten Island needs federal money "for the boots on the ground."
Part of that funding that would come would be for prevention.
"If we don't look at the root cause, we're never going to fix it," Mantello said.
Speaking about her son in Camelot, Olsen said after six-and-a-half months there, "he's a completely changed person, he has a purpose now, he's going for his GED."
She got education and inspiration from Alicia Palermo-Reddy through her group, Addiction Angels, a volunteer group that provides guidance, resources and referrals for those with substance abuse. Palermo-Reddy also attended Thursday's event at Camelot.
SEEKING LOCAL FUNDING, TOO
Councilmembers Borelli, Debi Rose and Steven Matteo recently penned a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito seeking more money for the district attorney's office to combat drug use, increased violent crimes and domestic violence.
With 3.1 percent of the citywide DA budget, Staten Island has 3.8 percent of the arrests in the city.
Borelli argued Thursday that based on Staten Island's population, spending of $20.54 per person in 2016 is uneven when compared to the other boroughs, ranging from $23.33 in Queens to $60.11 in Manhattan.
With a current budget of $9.6 million, the councilmembers are asking for an additional $3 million.
A de Blasio spokeswoman said, "We look forward to working with the Council on these -- and many other issues -- throughout the budget process."
She cited initiatives that the mayor has put forth, including making anti-overdose medicine Narcan available over the counter in pharmacies. Addressing domestic violence, a planned Family Justice Center on Staten Island is expected to open this year.