Heroin on Long Island: How Did We Get Here and What Can We Do?

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Heroin doesn’t discriminate—That’s what we as treatment professionals are telling parents, teachers, and students on Long Island, a stretch of suburban communities that seems an unlikely place for adolescents with heroin problems.

As heroin addiction among our youth continues to rise, residents of Long Island are beginning to see that an “anywhere but here” way of thinking creates a false sense of security. One of the communities to come to this realization is Sayville, once dubbed “the friendliest town in America.” Last Thursday night, a crowd of more than 600 concerned residents gathered in the auditorium of Sayville Middle School to discuss the heroin problem that has claimed too many young people.

Although I wasn’t at the meeting, I recently took part in a similar conversation with journalist Perri Peltz on SIRIUS XM’s Doctor Radio program “Is Your Kid High?” I imagine that the other panelists and I were attempting to answer the same questions as the residents of Sayville: What should parents do if they suspect their teen may be heading down the wrong path? How do they protect their children? What about respecting their privacy? Do kids have rights?

What I tried to emphasize on the program—and what I would have said had I attended the Sayville event—is that the warm, fuzzy feeling between parents and their children can be a bi-product of parenting, but is not the purpose. A parent’s job is not to be their children’s friend, but to prepare them for a healthy, successful adulthood where they can make the best choices. Therefore, if you notice signs that your child may be experimenting with drugs or drinking, do anything you can to protect your child, including “snooping.” I know of parents who eventually took off their teenager’s bedroom door after discovering a drug problem. While this may seem extreme, I don’t think it’s going too far if the circumstances require it.

Likewise, if you have reason to believe your kids are using, buying a drug testing kit at the drugstore is another tool to help keep them safe. Testing also has the added benefit of giving your children an easy out next time they’re offered drugs or alcohol; they can simply say, “I can’t. My parents test me.” But, don’t test until you know what you’ll do with the results—positive or negative.

Finally, remember that there are no guarantees. Sometimes all the snooping and tough love in the world won’t stop substance abuse. Ask my parents! Addiction is a chronic medical illness, just like hypertension, diabetes and asthma; all have genetic, environmental, and behavioral components.

But for every life lost—for every John Belushi, River Phoenix, and DJ AM—there are people like myself and two inspiring young men, Adam Parbus and Naveed Etemadipour.

Adam, the 20-year-old guest speaker at Sayville Middle School who started using drugs to ”be cool,” survived an overdose from a lethal mix of heroin, Xanax, and vodka. He received treatment at our East Hampton Academy and recently said he’s grateful to be alive and drug-free for over a year.

Naveed, my fellow panelist on the Doctor Radio program, is now a part-time counselor in training at Phoenix House after a stay at our San Diego Academy. Offering his thoughts on parenting, he said, “Being cuddly and friendly [is what parents think they should be]…but being strict is being a parent. You can’t force your children to make the right decisions, but you can guide them. That’s what I lacked—the structure and tough love—and that’s what’s most important.”

As a person in long-term recovery, I salute Naveed and Adam’s courage to share their stories and I urge parents on Long Island and other communities across the country to know the warning signs and take action—before it’s too late.

Deni Carise, Ph.D.
Chief Clinical Officer, Phoenix House
Adjunct Clinical Professor, University of Pennsylvania
Scientist, Treatment Systems Section, Treatment Research Institute


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  • A great post. As a staff member of the Center on Addiction and the Family (COAF) at Phoenix House, I recently co-hosted a webchat for a group of professionals who work with grandparents and other relatives raising children–usually because of a parent’s addiction. The webchat focused on prescription drug abuse among our teens, and effective prevention. I think it’s important for parents to realize that prescription pain killers (oxycontin, Vicadin, etc) are often a gateway to heroin abuse for teenaged users. They get it from the family medicine cabinet or fellow students, who often get theirs from the medicine cabinet at home. I urge parents to learn more about prescription drug abuse among teens, and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America’s website is a great place to start (www.drugfree.org).

    Another critical thing to remember is that prevention is about so much more than anti-drug messages! It’s about teaching our kids to problem-solve, self-soothe in healthy ways, take on developmentally appropriate risks, and to think for themselves to resist peer pressure, so that when they’re offered a drug, they are less likely to try it in the first place. It’s about making sure that our teens are involved in healthy and challenging after-school and family activities that give them something better to do than using drugs. And parents MUST clarify their values, rules, and consequences around substance use and make these things known to their children, early and often. If we wait until we suspect abuse, we’ve missed critical opportunities to prevent it.

  • Believe it or not, more and more people are dying from heroin addiction and heroin detox is the only way to help a heroin addict kick this terrible habit. Though there is enough information out there that promotes how horrible heroin is, still many people, young and old, are trying heroin and entering into a world of virtually unbeatable addiction. There are various reasons why people take this drug in the first place and some of this reasons include:

  • To many kids are getting there hands on heroin in Long Island. I truly believe that parents need to pay more attention to who there kids hang around with. Open your eyes parents and stop allowing these kids to manipulate.

  • Jeff

    Beyond easy availability one of the biggest problems is the enablers. Usually it’s family and from where I am just down the road there is a whole family of heroin addicts in their 30’s and 40’s. Their mother is the worst enabler I have ever come across. Of late I have been treated to a four month long parade of junkies coming to score by a man under active investigation for heroin dealing. Abraham and Erica Feinblum, the owners of the house, were renting an apartment to him. And they were as blind to it with all of the attached excuses of classic enablers. It took a two day stake-out and a narcotic arrest to rid our neighborhood of this scourge!