STATEN ISLAND — Alicia Palermo-Reddy preps patients for ambulatory surgery and she recently noticed two, middle-aged women who seemed sad and withdrawn. The husband of one tried to explain.
“And he started to cry,” the nurse said, as she struggled to contain her own emotions. “And he said that they just buried their son. It was like three weeks before.”
The son had died from an opioid overdose, a scourge that has hit Staten Island especially hard. Every day, 115 Americans die from an opioid OD—whether it be pain pills, heroin, or the incredibly lethal fentanyl.
So for the last few years, Palermo-Reddy, who told us she has three nephews addicted to opioids, has crafted a forum she calls “Scared Straight” — where the speakers tell horror stories from the opioid battle zone.
If the term sounds familiar, it should be.
In the 1970s, an Oscar-winning documentary of the same name followed tough-talking inmates in New Jersey’s Rahway State Prison, as they tried to scare young prisoners with a chance at freedom into staying straight.
Kevin Moran, director of Scalia Home for Funerals on the island’s South Shore, recalled all the teens and 20-somethings he has buried, along with dads and moms in their 40s and 50s.
He recalls a time in 2014, when he was averaging five to six funerals a month that were opioid related.
“It could be someone who wears a suit who’s an accountant, a lawyer or a teacher,” Moran had told PIX11 during an interview at the funeral home, “as opposed to a ‘space cadet’ walking around in ‘zombie land.’”
Moran noted most of the toxicology reports on the dead people he’s buried in recent years showed fentanyl in the user’s system.
“I’ve had people with rat poison in them” Moran noted.
He also spoke of how disturbing it is to go into a parking lot during some funerals and see mourners snorting cocaine, smoking joints, or dipping into coolers for scotch and Jack Daniels.
“I try to create a forum to try and scare the kids to never try alcohol or pot,” Palermo-Reddy said. “I have not come across one addict that didn’t start with alcohol or smoking marijuana.”
One of those addicts was Kevin Parker, now 31.
Parker told PIX11 when he was 18, his car hit a bus “head on” and he went to a doctor for help with pain management. He got his first Percocet prescription.
By the time he was 22, he said he needed two, 30mg pills of the powerful opioid Oxycodone just to get out of bed.
He overdosed four times, the last time nearly killing him, in November 2011.
“I had multi-organ failure. My brain was frying. I had sepsis in the blood. I had 40 percent oxygen to the brain,” Parker recalled.
“They said if I survived, I’d be a complete vegetable and lose all four of my limbs.”
Parker lost one limb.
“I lost my left leg, I’m a below the knee amputee,” Parker said, “and I have irreparable nerve damage in my right leg.”
Parker also lost his left gluteus because of bed sores.
He told us he was in a coma for several weeks, before his leg was amputated.
“The only thing I remember when I was in a coma was my mother singing to me,” Parker said, “and I didn’t know what it was at the time, but it was so relieving and peaceful.”
He said waking up and seeing his mother’s face was a source of great comfort, and it was also a game changer.
“I seen the look in my mother’s eyes, and I would never want to put anyone through that again.”
PIX11 has reported the opioid crisis has spawned a generation of orphans on Staten Island and elsewhere. On Tuesday night, we observed two baby carriages among the crowd assembled in St. Peter’s school gym on Henderson Avenue.
We couldn’t help but hope the tiniest among us will never know the grip of an opioid addiction.
The school children in the crowd seemed as young as 10.
“Education is all we have right now,” Alicia Palermo-Reddy said.
Kevin Parker, meantime, got his college degree after surviving that 2011 overdose. He’s now a certified “life coach.”