“Wow, that is a hat and a half, huh?” my co-worker said as she touched its raised lettering and put the hat back on the bar where I’d left it, before my shift Saturday night.
It read: I HATE HEROIN.
I bought the hat from a nonprofit group, Michael’s HOPE, Inc, that I knew about because a friend of mine had liked the group’s Facebook page. He liked the page 10 days before he died.
The group’s founders are amazing, twenty-somethings who travel around giving free assemblies to Long Island students about the sheer destruction that opiates cause to people and families. The founders would know; they were addicts.
They also know loss — the group’s president lost his brother.
These beautiful, smart, engaging, giving people — they went to hell but managed to come back. They don’t mince words.
They speak of a nightmare we desperately need to share — because people are dying.
I HATE HEROIN.
Sean Michael Stanton, I spoke to him the day before his birthday on Jan. 2. He’d been living in a sober house in Florida. I didn’t know he had relapsed by then. He overdosed 72 hours later.
He’d been 102 days clean, and then he was gone. Every day I ask, “Why couldn’t you tell me?” Sean was brilliant. He once got an entire bar of old men to dance to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off,” just because I was having a bad day.
After he died, his Suffolk County Police Department exam results came back. He got a 95 percent. He could have been in the next class. All he wanted was to become a police officer.
I HATE HEROIN.
That’s why I wore the hat this past weekend, and will continue to do so.
But I didn’t put it on my head without concerns. I work at 89 North Music Venue in Patchogue. We are busy. I see hundreds of people a night.
What if I offended them?
Last weekend, strangers said, “I love your hat.” Some gave me a high five. Some teared up. I stopped, no matter how busy, to listen.
A lot of people are hurting. They’ve lost loved ones. They’ve watched them suffer.
Just seeing the words “I HATE HEROIN” inspired them to let out pain — their pain — to a stranger.
And, their angry.
Some said we need laws for harsher sentences for heroin dealers. Or that we need to stop NARCAN-ing addicts and kicking them back to the streets 36 hours later.
“What do you think will happen? They’ll get high again, because they’re sick! Why don’t we treat overdoses like a suicide attempt? A mandatory 28-day hold?”
“Why don’t we treat this like cancer? Do we tell cancer patients, ‘Sorry, you relapsed and got cancer again; we just can’t pay for this?”
“Do we tell them, ‘We don’t have beds. Sorry. Try calling somewhere else?'”
“Sorry, Suboxone isn’t covered by insurance.”
“‘You don’t need Suboxone to quit dope, then you’ll just be addicted to that.’ Do we tell that to the person that takes anti-depressants everyday?”
We agreed on many things. I didn’t have answers.
What I do know is this: if enough of us ask questions, the powers-that-be can’t keep ignoring them. We’re the voice of the people we lost, people too sick or ashamed to speak. Please listen.
Please read up on Michael’s HOPE (Heroin and Opiate Prevention and Education)
I live in the Patchogue-Medford School District, I’m waiting on the principals to hear if they’ll let the group hold assemblies or not; please write to them.
The best cure is to warn our kids what they’ll be getting into. It’s worth our time and energy to save just one life. I don’t wish this type of loss upon anyone.
I’ll wear the hat again. It is heavy on my head. It would help if others wore it too.
It’s a simple, yet powerful message, and an easy one to express.
I HATE HEROIN.
Photo: Brandon Nilson, Trini Olsen and Scott McGovern at 89 North Music Venue. (courtesy)