"It was just me and him. We didn’t have any other siblings, so we were really close. He was my best friend…."
"He was 17 when he got injured in a work-related accident. His hand got sucked into a fish skinning machine and it skinned his whole hand. The guy that normally skins the fish didn’t show up to work that day, so they put my brother on the machine, which he shouldn’t have been able to use until he was 18 anyway. He had no training, no nothing; they said it was easy and then his hand got sucked in and it ripped the skin right off. That’s what got him introduced to pain pills, because you can only imagine having to go through the pain of that and the surgeries, so they hopped him up on pain pills. He also ended up winning a lawsuit after suing his employer and the company that makes the fish skinning machine because it didn’t have a proper guard on it. Because of this, he ended up collecting a little chunk of change when he was 18. So, you can only assume by the time that the prescription stopped for his pain pills that addiction had probably set in already at that point. So there he was, 18-19 years old with a large sum of cash, and he was able to keep buying pills on the street until eventually the money ran out. Once you can’t afford the pill habit, the heroin comes into play."
“I didn’t hear a word of him using heroin until I was in my senior year of high school. We grew up in a small town, so everyone knew each other’s business. So, I caught wind from classmates that he was selling heroin. Then he ended up getting arrested a couple of weeks later for possession of hypodermic instruments, possession of a controlled substance and driving without a license, and that’s when it really broke open to the family that there was an issue. When I had heard things around school from classmates, I told my parents and they responded with the typical, 'No way, not my child; there’s no way he’s using dope.' The day he got arrested and my parents got the call from jail to say that this is what he’s been charged with and all that, that’s when reality sank in. But they’re still parents, so they bailed him out, and of course he denied everything like he wasn’t using or whatever. It took a lot of time for him to finally come out and admit that he was using, but the whole time he never thought that he had a problem; he thought he controlled it and that it didn’t control him. We believed what he said, especially since it was the first time we encountered it. We were completely uneducated on what signs to look for, so we began to believe him, like, 'Okay, maybe he’s not using.'”
"Looking back now, I mean, yeah, there were a lot of clear signs, but at that time they were so hard to see because they’re hidden in plain sight. You just have to believe what people say. I mean, he was broke and had a $400 a day habit. He wasn’t some low-life drug dealer trying to make loads of cash, he was just dealing to support his addiction. I remember talking to one of the detectives and him telling me that my brother was using over 42 bags of heroin a day. That’s the big, 'Okay, I don’t know much about heroin at that point, but 42 bags sure sounds like a lot of heroin to be using in one day.’ The cops said that as soon as they would start their wire taps on him that they would say a prayer and hope that they’d hear my brother answer the phone because of how much heroin he was using. That was the biggest sign that this was bigger than what we thought it was. He ended up doing 18 months for that."
"He got released when he was 29 and immediately started using again. I started to notice him nodding off and acting weird a couple of nights, but I didn’t think anything of it. He had been working a lot and wasn’t used to working so much; he was used to being in prison. On February 8, I remember he came home from work and everything was fine. He was on food stamps because when you get out of prison you’re able to collect food stamps. So, he gave my dad his EBT card and said, ‘Here, pay for dinner. Use my card, I’m gonna get in the shower.’ He went into the bathroom to use the shower, but my dad needed the pin code for the card, so he went to go knock on the bathroom door but there was no answer. That’s when the whole pandemonium started about this whole situation that we’re facing in life. I heard screaming from upstairs because I lived in the basement, so I came running upstairs and found my mom freaking out. My dad was trying to pick the lock on the bathroom door but he couldn’t get it open. We didn’t want to kick it in because we didn’t know where he was lying. We knew he was down, we just didn’t know why. Of course, we started assuming it was an overdose or something drug-related. Finally, we got the door picked open and he was slumped over the bathtub, already blue and grey at that point. My mom ran outside screaming on the front yard, just screaming, ‘Help! Somebody Help!’ It’s a small town, so we had a lot of neighbors who were either police officers or in the fire department. One of my neighbors who’s a retired NYC Police Officer came running over and started doing chest compressions while I was on the phone with 911. They arrived, worked on him for like 45 minutes, distributed Narcan, finally got a heartbeat back, rushed him to the hospital and put him right on the machines. He was in ICU for three days, but his brain stem had herniated from his brain because he went so long without oxygen. At that point, life support was the only thing keeping him alive."
"On February 11, 2012, we had to make the decision to take him off of life support. That’s when my nightmare began, and then it never completely went away from there. It’s a haunting image that never seems to leave your brain. You’re like 70 percent okay in life. Sure, you strive to be 100 percent, but you’ll never be 100 percent, so you just do your best to be at 70 percent all the time.”
“I’d speak to people that used to get high with him that are now clean and sober, and they said he wasn’t doing it to get high anymore, he was just doing it to not get sick. He had no more usable veins left in his body. They used to tell me he’d be crying because he was sticking himself in his neck and in between his fingers in an attempt to find any vein that he could. He would get upset because he wasn’t doing it to get high - he was doing it because he knew that the sickness that followed with the withdrawals was horrible.”
“There’s so many things that are wrong with this picture, and they wonder why we keep losing people. It’s because not enough is being done and there needs to be more at this point. It angers me. My brother died, so I’m saddened and I’m hurt. He’s gone. What am I going to do about it? I can’t bring him back. If I could bring him back, that would be selfish of me because I’d be bringing him back to his addiction. Do I wish he was here? Yes. But, I know that can't happen, so what am I going to do, sit and cry that my brother’s not here, or be one of the people who take a stand, have a voice and fight for the ones we’ve lost and the ones still fighting? We can’t do this alone, honestly we can’t.”
“It’s haunting to know how many families have to lose children and how many siblings have to lose other siblings. No one should have to go through that. I literally watched my brother die in front of my eyes. That image haunts you for the rest of your life. I see it in my sleep. I see it when I drive down the road. I see it all the time. I’m one of the lucky ones who didn’t turn to drugs and alcohol to try and ease my pain. I know a lot of people who lost siblings and turned to drugs and alcohol. It’s such a giant snowball effect that people are not paying attention to, and the one’s who are paying attention just don’t want to talk about it. They want to push it under the rug like it’s not happening. But it is happening, and it’s in every town, every zip code, every city, every state. It’s all over this country. There’s not a town that’s safe. We try to educate and we try to fight. People who have lost loved ones to addiction are the ones who need to be involved fighting this fight. We’re the most powerful voices for this because we can put faces to the people who aren’t here anymore. I’m not going to let my brother die in vain, die a drug addict. Yeah, he’s a drug addict, I don’t hide it, but he was so much more than that. He was my brother. I was a sibling for 23 years of my life, and now I have to figure out how to live as an only child. Anybody that has a sibling knows that connection. You talk shit about your parents with them; you have a problem you can go to them. To have that for so many years of your life and then to have that taken away from you, you don’t know what to do. What are you supposed to do? I don’t have a best man. Usually, your brother is your best man. My kids will never have an uncle. There’s a lot of things in life that I won’t have now. So now I live on, and try to do the best that I can by keeping his memory alive.”
“Michael’s HOPE started with passion, anger, sadness and all of my emotions mixed together. I started making bracelets that say ‘I HATE HEROIN’ and handing them out to everybody. I must have handed out hundreds. The bracelet was enough to start a conversation if the conversation needed to be started without somebody having to come out and verbalize anything. A lot of people liked that, so the bracelets really took off. Then I started getting more involved in the community of people doing outreach. That’s when I started to notice that being from my area, there was nothing out there to help this. There were no educational services, nobody doing that type of outreach. I said to myself, ‘Something needs to be done.’ I went to one event at a town hall meeting wearing my ‘Shoot Your Local Heroin Dealer’ shirt and was known as the ‘Shoot Your Local Heroin Dealer Kid.’ I stood up, and while we were all talking I said, ‘There’s nothing like this out east; people going to schools and talking; no community forums, nothing.’ I realized that something needed to be done and someone needed to step up and do something.”
“So, I got more involved. I met my current girlfriend and told her about what I was doing and what my plans were, and she agreed that we should do something. She was kind of the kick in the ass I needed to really push forward. Between her and I, we started talking about important subjects, putting things in motion. I started to go to more and more events and then everybody who got involved just sort of fell into each other’s laps. Nobody was out there searching for each other, we kind of all just met each other when the time was right. We now do free Narcan trainings, community seminars and educational programs. We’ve trained over 1,000 people in proper Narcan usage and know of two confirmed saves from our kits. We’re very open to visiting schools to help educate the students. We just wish more communities were open to having us come in and discuss this particular subject. We know that what we’re doing is making an impact. It might be a small impact, but any impact is an impact. Just do something, start talking about it.”
“I know Michael is proud of me, and I know that he supports this. I’m doing this for him, I’m not doing this for myself. This isn’t my way of grieving, or my way of coping, this is just me trying to give back. My brother was one death, but I’m trying to prevent the countless more that could happen. If he were still here, he would be involved. I guarantee it.”
"I started using heroin when I was 28 years old..."
“I lost everything; I gave it away basically is what it comes down to. I lost my job, my car, friends' respect, everything. I came into recovery from other substances in 2012, before I even started using heroin. I was afraid to use heroin, ironically. I went to the sober house and did that whole thing, and even stayed clean for ten months but didn't work the program. After that, everything I said I wouldn't do, I did.”
“I was snorting the Roxies, and then I met someone and I learned how to shoot them. I had said I’d never use a needle, but then I started shooting them, and they were like, ‘You’re basically doing heroin.' So then I went straight to heroin; it was cheaper. That was every day. Daily. Every single day.”
“Literally, I would wake up and the first thing I thought of was just using, so I'd do anything I could. I had money, I worked. I worked my ass off, actually, in the restaurant industry. So, I literally just woke up, got my drugs, went to work, did drugs, left work, and got more drugs. I was making like three or four hundred dollars a day waitressing. No one knew I was using, but I was.”
“But, I picked up a new drug down there. I got the Suboxone to help, but the girl I met up with was doing crack. I didn’t like crack. I ended up doing it with her, though. Once I had enough of that, I went broke again. Everything was gone. And then I got into a relationship with a person who didn't do drugs, so it kinda helped me out. So that was good, but I just drowned my sorrows in alcohol at that point. And then I moved back here and just got drunk, bartended, and my next step was getting off the drugs again. So I called someone and went to Talbot house, a crisis center that anybody can go to. You don't need insurance, you don't need anything. I went there, and then I got put into a sober house in Bellport, which was in the middle of the hood, and I was just surrounded by people who were high. Once I left there, I called my sponsor and she got me out to Aquebogue, which I had never even heard of. I did that, did the whole recovery scene out there, and you know, was fortunate enough to get a place out here in Patchogue.”
“This is taking too many lives. Go get a sponsor and do the steps, it's the only way. I got off drugs and did the meetings and shit, but I didn't do the work. You really have to do the work. It’s not the drugs and alcohol that are the problem, they're our solution. You know what I mean? So, we’re the problem. If you don’t fix the person, you’re going to use again. So this time, I had to surrender, but you have to want it. That’s what did it for me; I threw my hands up, I was done. I didn’t want to live like that anymore. Toward the end I wanted to go use heroin, and instead of calling a drug dealer, I called someone I knew. Just do the work, and do the steps. It works. It’s easier to say that because I didn't believe in it, but it works."
"I shot heroin for the first time when I was 17..."
“The difference between me and you is that I have an allergy, that’s what sets me apart. So that means when I take a drink, for example, there is something activated immediately. As soon as alcohol touches my lips, or touches my tongue, my first thought isn’t, ‘Hey, this tastes wonderful,' it’s, ‘Wow, I feel good right now,' or like, ‘Wow, I’m about to feel good.’ I don’t understand how anyone can just leave their little bit of beer on a table, pay their tab and leave. That to me is mind-blowing, like how can you do that? It’s alcohol."
"I went to detox. The last time I was in detox my insurance cut me off after three days, and my dad was a corrections officer at Rikers Island, so like, that's crazy. They said to me, ‘Hey, we can't get you into an inpatient facility because your insurance doesn't cover it; you have to fail outpatient for six months.' I was doing like a minimum of 50 bags of heroin a day and mixing it with Xanax. Like, these were lethal doses. I had a grown man’s habit, and I was like 110 pounds. Plus, I’m 5-foot-5, so that's really bad. I went in my room and started crying hysterically. You know how this whole thing is about finding something bigger than yourself? I started crying and I was like, 'I need help, I’m gonna die!,' while screaming in my room. And then an hour later, my counselor came in and she’s like, ‘We can get you into a sober house,’ and I said, ‘Okay, let’s go.' And I am not that type of person who’s gonna be like, ‘Hey, let’s put myself into a really strange situation and just see what happens.’”
“It's a thing you write to yourself to give you confidence. Self-affirmation, they call it. So I put it on my arm, because then anytime there’s a situation where I move with my hands, I can see what I’m doing. But while I was trying to get clean and I was withdrawing, I would just scratch it and try to get it off my arm, because I was so miserable and didn’t feel that I was enough.”
“While I was in the sober house, I was withdrawing horribly. I didn't sleep for five days, and my eyes were rolling around in my head uncontrollably, because your eyes are a muscle and you need to sleep. I was having severe withdrawals; I felt like I was going crazy. Picture yourself in a room, and you’re trying to be quiet or go to sleep. Meanwhile, another person is just moving chairs back and forth, scratching them on the floor. That’s what my head was constantly and I felt like I was insane. I decided, ‘I can’t do this, I’m gonna get high.’ I called everyone on my phone and the only person to answer was my friend who was also withdrawing. And he said, ‘Hey, I’m at my dad’s house, I'm withdrawing too. Let's just talk to each other.' So I said, ‘Okay, that sounds cool.’ He talked to me every single night. The women there used to wake up at four or five in the morning, and he would stay on the phone with me until somebody woke up. And then two months later, I went on Facebook and I saw that he died. If it wasn't for him, I would have gotten high. Hands down.”
“This entire process of getting and staying sober is about ‘killing ego.’ It’s a killing of the self, not suicide-wise, but of self-centeredness. Look at things from another point of view - your perspective, the way you view things. That’s your reality, your world. If you change that, everything changes. ‘Curb your ego,’ that speaks volumes. I met the artist and he said to me on my birthday, ‘Change me to we and the ego will flee.’ If everyone lived life that way, with love and tolerance, anything would be possible. With recovery, I am one person. When my ego reconstructs itself and I think, “I’m great, I am, and I can help everyone, with too much emphasis on the ‘I,’ then I can’t help fucking anyone. If we all help, if we are humble and know we aren’t God, we band together and fight this together. Anything could happen. Pick up your fellow man, don’t walk by him.”
“My future sponsor raised her hand in a meeting, and she was like, ‘When I first came into this process, I didn't believe in anything; I didn’t believe in God. Hands down, it was never gonna happen.’ She was into conspiracy theories, and now I’m in love with conspiracy theories. She raised her hand and started saying all of this stuff I could relate to, and then she was like, 'And then I started going through this beautiful process, and now my life has changed. I don’t think about using, I don't think about drinking.’ She was a crackhead, and I figured I should ask her for her phone number. I ran up to her after the meeting and said, 'Listen, I don't know what I’m doing right now but I have to get a sponsor, can I have your phone number?'"
"She said, ‘Yeah, sure,’ and the first conversation we had, she told me to read a chapter in the big book called ‘We Agnostics.’ It’s the fourth chapter in the book. I’m a sponsor now, so I break down everything that it says to the newcomer. ‘Ag-’ is the greek meaning for no, and the rest of the word is knowledge. So if you’re agnostic, that means no knowledge, or without knowledge. It has my favorite quote, 'We miss the reality and the beauty of the forest because we were blinded by the ugliness of some trees.' That’s how we lived our life. Everything is ugly and everything is shit. But look at this place, nothing's in bloom and it’s beautiful."
"I was 17. My ex-boyfriend was selling Oxycontins behind my back, and that's where I started..."
“I was smoking marijuana, but not like crazy. In high school, I’d smoke maybe like two blunts a week. It wasn’t that crazy. It wasn't daily. Research shows it’s the gateway drug, but I sometimes think it’s a personal choice. That’s my point of view. I think the pills definitely led to heroin, though. Oxycontin is just the same form, the same high, and when you get deeper into your addiction, you find the cheaper way out is heroin. It’s the stronger high. If you buy a single bag of coke and heroin it’s probably around the same amount, but I used to get bricks at times; bricks and bricks of heroin. Which is, if I still remember, a brick would be ten bundles. It would be about ten bags in a bundle, and that would be like one hundred bucks. If you get two pills of Oxycontin, that was like $120 alone. You could get small pills which you would crush up, or bags and bags of heroin for one hundred bucks. It was just cheaper because each bag you would use to get high, or depending on how high your addiction was, related to how many bags you would shoot at a time. It just absolutely progresses.”
“My family didn’t see me at times, but I didn't have a phone, and I lived in my car. Nobody really knew what I was doing. At that point I was so tied up in drugs, I didn't really think of what I was doing to other people because my mind frame wasn't right until I got clean. And then, I moved back home and it was a harsh reality. I was out of home and on heroin for two and a half years, from 17 to 19."
"It's a depression. You feel stuck mentally. Physically, your body is just addicted to this drug. So as a whole, you're constantly chasing and chasing after that high, because that’s what all your focus is on. When I worked, I would work and then it would go straight into my arm. It's all you focus on mentally. It's a mind-fuck. Physically, your body is torn. I used to shoot up in my hand, in my arm, all over. I had an abscess, I had a collapsed vein. You can use any vein at that point, any vein that’s visible. And then that takes a toll on you, because physically you have all those wounds from where you shot up in. My hand was messed up for awhile. Still to this day, you can feel a hard abscess in my arm. I still have it.”
“I was tired of living the relationship that it was. It was just a drug relationship. I wanted to get my last high, my last hoorah. After I did, I finally went to rehab. I didn’t do inpatient, though; I actually detoxed myself at home, and then did an intensive outpatient. The detox is the most horrific thing because your body has to completely cleanse itself of this. The difference between coke and heroin is that coke is more of a mental thing. It’s like, ‘You need it, you need it, you want it, you want it.’ When you withdraw from heroin, it’s physical. It’s a physical withdrawal, like your whole body withdraws from it. Day one is usually your worst withdrawal of all time. You get fevers, hot and cold sweats, you shake, you throw up, you have diarrhea, you are constantly uncomfortable no matter what position you lay in. You could lay on your back, but you'll get no sleep. Those first three days, you get no sleep. So that was it, the first day, the second day, and then you're obviously irritable because you can’t get high. And no matter how many showers you take to cool down, you’re freezing, you’re hot, you’re cold, and that’s basically it. That's all day for three days solid of your worst days. It gets easier going on. But, it takes a full month for your body to detox and get back to completely normal.”
“Now that I’m clean and everything, it’s just like I don't even know how I did it then. I just didn't care; there was no care. I have a very addictive personality, so once I do something, I go full blown - clearly with my tattoos, which is a healthy addiction. But, seeing people drop like flies more so now than they did then, I feel like it's cut way worse or people are just getting insanely careless with things."
“Definitely reach out to someone, don't keep it inside. Life is just more beautiful outside the usage of heroin. Don't be influenced by anybody else, because a lot of people are influenced. It’s just sad. It’s hard to even say this, but it’s so hard when people are stuck in their addiction because it really just falls on themselves - I used to just say to people, ‘Get your shit together, get your shit together.’ One of my cousins, while I was in my first year of being clean, he completely flipped and started doing heroin. It’s hard to say and give advice to other people except to just do it for yourself and that life is better outside of being a heroin addict. You don't have to shoot up just to live, just to enjoy life. You don't need a drug for that. It just falls on themselves in the end. They have to want to get healthy and get clean.”
“I have over seven years clean; January 7 was seven years. I flipped my life completely upside down, like 360 degrees, probably like three times. I am completely fixed. Just being alive and not putting people through stress and heartache has been rewarding enough. That would have be the most rewarding thing, just seeing everybody happy and stress free and not worrying about me anymore.”