Though it has been four years, Bryan Phillippe can still perfectly recall the last time he saw his son Gabriel.
It was a Thursday night in April 2010. The Rocky Point resident had tried to take his son to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting earlier that evening, but the 15-year-old refused to get out of the car. So Mr. Phillippe took him back to his mother’s house in Center Moriches.
Early the next morning, Mr. Phillippe received a call telling him that Gabriel had died from what an autopsy would later reveal to be an overdose caused by ingesting a transdermal patch coated with fentanyl, a powerful painkiller, that he found in his mother’s trash can.
“I know Gabe wanted to be sober,” Mr. Phillippe said Tuesday night in front of an audience of some two dozen people gathered inside Joshua’s Place in Southampton. “He said he had [been for] 52 days—I don’t know if that was true, it really doesn’t matter at this point.”
Mr. Phillippe shared the story of Gabriel’s struggle with addiction on the fourth anniversary of his son’s death during a presentation on heroin and opioid drug abuse among teens hosted by Westhampton Beach-based Human Understanding and Growth Services, or HUGS, and the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department.
Prior to his death, Gabriel had already overdosed earlier that year, Mr. Phillippe said, and had been using heroin and other drugs for years, admitting to his family that he had experimented with Ecstasy at age 12. Fentanyl, the drug that caused his death, is a synthetic opioid that often is used as a pain reliever—as was the patch that killed Gabriel—as well as a makeshift alternative to heroin.
The Phillippe family does something every year to mark the anniversary of Gabriel’s death and Mr. Phillippe has shared his experiences with Long Island schoolchildren.
“I know I could be home right now, not doing anything about this,” he said. “But I know that’s not what Gabe would have wanted.”
Kym Laube, executive director of HUGS, a youth services program that works to prevent drug use, said that heroin has become a prominent drug on Long Island, particularly on the East End.
Despite what many parents like to tell themselves, Ms. Laube continued, teens often pick up habits of addiction at home by watching what their parents do—particularly when they consume alcohol. She added that despite the verbal warnings parents give their children about drinking and doing drugs, actions speak louder than words.
Ms. Laube encouraged those parents in attendance not to allow their children to attend parties with underage drinking or enable them by supplying them with alcohol at home, as alcohol can be a gateway drug for many addicts.
“People like to talk about the ‘Heroin Highway,’” she said, referring to the nickname some in the law enforcement community have given to the Long Island Expressway. “What the kids I work with tell me is that the real heroin highway starts with alcohol.”
Along with discussing methods of prevention, the mother of two also discussed the importance of removing the negative stigma that addiction carries, stressing that it needs to be treated as a disease. One of the ways to do so, she said, is by discussing the topic more openly with children and among other parents.
“We blame the fish for dying when they swim in a polluted pond, but what we need to do is look at why the water is polluted in the first place,” she said.
Suffolk County Sheriff’s Lieutenant David Sheehan, who also spoke at Tuesday night’s event, said parents should watch out for the physical signs of drug abuse—restricted pupils, slow respiration, clammy skin and loss of coordination—as well as sudden, drastic changes in personality, such as a lack of interest in activities that were once important to them.
Lt. Sheehan also encouraged parents not to pull any punches when it comes to investigating a child that they suspect is using drugs. He recommends looking through their rooms for key objects such as eye drops, cut up straws, tiny paper sleeves and rubber bands—which are used to package heroin—as well as more obvious indicators, like hypodermic needles. He also pointed out that a variety of objects could be used to cook heroin, including aluminum foil, tealight candle holders and the bottoms of soda cans.
He suggested parents monitor computer use—even if they must do so covertly using keystroke trackers—to see what their children are saying and doing on social media. The 55-year-old police officer also is a proponent of in-home drug testing.
“There are people that are horrified that you’d do this to your children,” Lt. Sheehan said. “I’m horrified that they don’t.”