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Addiction Is Target At Somers Drug Forum

Carol Christiansen holds up a picture of her son, Erik at the Somers drug forum.
Carol Christiansen holds up a picture of her son, Erik at the Somers drug forum. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

SOMERS, N.Y. -- Susan Salomone of Carmel said that her son, Justin, did well in high school.

“He was a quiet kid," she said. "He didn’t want to take any risks."

Yet his addiction – she called it a “sickness” and an “illness” – began when he was 19 years old, a year in which he was arrested for the first time.

“My son suffered for 10 years with an addiction, a disease,” she told a crowd at the Somers Community Center at a drug forum on Tuesday night, Oct. 7.

Salomone lost her son, who used prescription pills before switching to heroin when he was 24, on May 29, 2012.

In the aftermath of his death, she and her husband, Steven, got together with Somers resident Carol Christiansen, who lost her son, Erik, to addiction, and co-founded the group Drug Crisis In Our Backyard.

The Salomones and Chistiansens were among several speakers at the drug forum, which was held by the Somers Chamber of Commerce and Somers Partners In Prevention.

Dozens turned out for the event, in which dealing with addiction was a constant theme.

Christiansen recalled a late-2011 conversation she had with her son, who was a New York Police Department detective. She remembers him saying that he thought he was addicted to painkillers. Contrasting this with the family’s history, she noted that her son came from a stable household, owned a co-op and went to college.

She recalled that he smashed up his car in 2012, went to rehab that April before leaving and being prescribed painkillers by another doctor. Christiansen lost her son when he died on June 9 of that year, just days after the Salomones lost theirs.

Michelle Gumina, a Mahopac resident, discussed her nearly eight-year heroin addiction, which she has been recovering from for five years. Gumina recalled a drunk-driving arrest in 2007 and discussed how her turnaround happened after she was facing the possibility of going to prison. For her, not losing her daughter was important.

Although Gumina lost her ability to be a teacher to her felon status, she discussed rebuilding her relationships with family members. Today, she helps others struggling with addiction.

“This disease will tear apart your family,” she said.

Doreen Lockwood, a director with Putnam Family & Community Services, noted the rise in opiate addiction among her clients, rising from three percent 15 years ago to 25 percent presently. The profile of her clients has changed, she explained. Typically, it used to be a 39-year-old white middle-class male who was abusing alcohol, with marijuana and cocaine use were to a lesser extent. The profile has shifted to white males between ages 18 to 29 from middle-class or affluent backgrounds who have been abusing heroin or prescription drugs.

(A second forum story, which will focus on the school system’s relationship, will be posted separately.)

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