By Carol P. Bartold, Senior Reporter
May 23, 2018: Eastchester Town Councilman Glenn Bellitto and his wife, Kyle, learned firsthand about the dangers of opioid addiction when their 19-year-old son Gage died of an overdose in December of 2017.
"These drugs don't let you go," Bellitto said. "That's why it's so important for us to really try to get to the kids before they start on this path. Once you're addicted to opioids, it's a rough road."
Bellitto explained that opioid addiction typically begins with a prescription for oxycodone pills. When a doctor can no longer prescribe them, the pills can be bought on the street for approximately $65 per pill. People who can't afford that tend to begin using heroin, which is cheaper than oxycodone pills. Street dealers also sell fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that looks like heroin but is 50 to 100 times more potent and much cheaper than heroin. When people mistake fentanyl for heroin and take the same amount, the dose can turn lethal.
The relapse rate for opioid addiction, Bellitto said, is approximately 90 percent within the first 30 days of leaving rehab. "I always thought that when you went to a 28-day rehab, moved to a halfway house or sober house, and then had outpatient treatment, you were pretty much done recovering," he said. People who have been addicted to opioids for six or seven years have been in rehab an average of ten times.
Bellitto believes that the ability to fight the national opioid epidemic, also on the rise over the past two years in the communities of Eastchester, Bronxville, and Tuckahoe, depends on communication. "Once people start talking about it, more people will be open," he said. Only then, he added, can the community galvanize to take action.
In an effort to provide a forum for open communication, Bellitto's colleague Eastchester Town Councilwoman Theresa Nicholson has been instrumental in helping form The Care Coalition, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of the opioid crisis in the community. "We want the community to come together," she said. "Everyone is experiencing some aspect of this issue. Everyone feels the loss."
Nicholson serves on a town task force that formed a steering committee to help address the crisis. The Care Coalition, she said, has a mission to not only raise awareness of the opioid epidemic problem but also to provide resources for people seeking help in dealing with it. The five-week-old organization, still in its formative stages, will hold a candlelight vigil on Wednesday, May 30, at 7:30 pm at the gazebo across from Eastchester Town Hall, 40 Mill Road in Eastchester.
Bellitto expects to see a mix of people at the vigil, including people whose families have been touched directly by the crisis because of loss or ongoing addiction, and also people who want to show their support for others who have suffered losses. "I think it will open up communication," he said. He believes that speaking publicly about his son's death from an opioid overdose has helped remove the stigma that has shamed people into silence. "We need a force rather than silence behind the scenes," he added
Nicholson and Bellitto emphasized that one objective of The Care Coalition is to assure people that they are not alone in dealing with opioid abuse issues. "We want to bring the community together," Nicholson said, "and raise awareness that people want to help."
Pictured here: A notice about the candlelight vigil sponsored by The Care Coalition that will be held in Eastchester on May 30.
Photo courtesy Theresa Nicholson, Eastchester town councilwoman and member of The Care Coalition