By Ashley Gagen
On Nov. 28, the Massapequa Takes Action Coalition (MTAC) held a vaping presentation at Massapequa High School with the Parent Teacher Student Association. Vaping products stimulate the feeling of smoking cigarettes and can be used to vape marijuana.
The U.S Food & Drug Administration states that 3.62 million users of vaporizers, hookah pens and e-cigarettes are middle and high school students and this usage has increased from last year by 78 percent percent for high schoolers and 48 percent for middle school students.
“The marijuana today is much different than it was years ago,” Cathy Samuels, MTAC coordinator, said. “It’s not just about rolling it in paper, it’s about the dabbing, wax paper, and vaping a new way.”
MTAC received a $625,000 Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Support Program Grant from the federal government in October that will address alcohol and marijuana use among youths in the Massapequa School District (MSD).
Over 200 coalitions across the country applied for DFC funding. The Office of National Drug Control Policy awarded 156 grants, MTAC being the only one in Nassau County.
“Our research from within the coalition is getting us to pull back that onion and it shows us that we have a young adult problem here in our community,” Samuels said. “We ask ourselves what our younger teens are doing, and alcohol and marijuana are prevalent.” MTAC and YES work closely with the Massapequa School District (MSD) by holding assemblies, presentations, mandatory prom meetings and fundraisers.
Samuels said that close to 60 parents attended the vaping presentation. This is one of the highest attended events that they have seen so far.
MTAC is facing some troubles. “The school sent out the resource list we provided at the event via email to parents that couldn’t attend,” Samuels said. “The partnership we have with the school is key to getting all of this information out to parents across all households.”
MSD sent out a letter to parents about the dangers of vaping and changed their policy when it comes to the consequences if a student is caught with a vaporizer on school grounds. “The school has always been incorporating the dangers of vaping into the policies but now are really active in providing consequences for teens that are using them in school,” the letter said.
The coalition also provides parent-student meetings and gives out “prescription disposal kits.” Samuels said that their research shows that 70 percent of young adults get their medications from family medicine cabinets and 31 percent of Massapequa students have been prescribed an opioid for pain, whether it was from an injury or a surgery.
On Oct. 27, MTAC held the bi-annual Drug Take Back Day at Massapequa High School. The event was to urge residents and parents to turn in unused or expired medication for safe disposal.
“We want everyone to feel like there is a place for them to get help,” Adrienne LoPresti, associate director at YES, said. “Just in the last five years we have made tremendous strides in both the treatment and prevention fields with providing alternative programs to people like meeting at their home, a coffee shop, and even 24-hour counselors to speak over the phone to so they don’t feel institutionalized.”
According to Samuels, research from the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services found that when kids use alcohol or marijuana before the age of 15, they are seven times more likely to have an issue of addiction at some point in their lives.
The coalition’s mission is prevention.
“YES and MTAC have really been a godsend to the community,” Danielle J. LaRose, outreach coordinator from St. Rose of Lima Church in Massapequa, said. “We have partnered really well with them over the last number of years.” St. Rose of Lima is one of the 19 organizations with the coalition.
The Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) has reported that there have been 502 heroin arrests in Nassau County since Jan. 1 of this year. Last year, 600 people died on Long Island from an opioid overdose.
Nassau County, reportedly, has had its first decrease in five years when it comes to the “raging opioid epidemic” that has affected much of Long Island as a whole. However, the decrease is not as significant as officials had hoped for. According to the NCPD website the county has had a 30 percent reduction in non-fatal overdoses since Jan. 1.
Opioids are a class of drugs that require a prescription because the CDC warns anyone can become addicted to them. According to the U.S Department of Education, in 2016, more Americans died because of opioid overdoses than car crashes.
“The response from the community has been understanding that organizations like MTAC need to be funded,” New York State 9th District Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino said. “It’s important to bring recognition to the kind of work they [MTAC and YES] do.”
The coalition also provides Narcan training. Narcan, or Naloxone, can be a lifesaver and can reverse an opioid overdose. Amanda Cioffi of Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has trainings that are about 45 minutes long and she teaches people about the signs and symptoms of an overdose and the proper way to administer Naloxone.
“Besides the resources we provide at LICADD, there are a multitude of resources for people who have a substance abuse problem in Nassau County,” Cioffi said.
This DFC grant allows MTAC to let their voices be heard even more. “I think a lot of people knew of us , but weren’t aware of everything we do,” LaRose said. “Community members were able to take a breath. Yes, we may be one of the highest towns with this problem, but something is being done to prevent it from happening more.”