Lorena Inestroza knows how beguiling opiates can be.
“It’s the best feeling in the world. You never think anything will compare to that feeling,” said the Morristown resident.
Inestroza, 59, is one of the lucky ones. She kicked her heroin habit five years ago, she said, and has stayed clean.
On the drizzly Morristown Green on Friday, she remembered the unlucky ones–reading aloud names of 49 area residents who succumbed to overdoses over the last year.
The somber ceremony was part of International Overdose Awareness Day, organized by a coalition of treatment centers and foundations called FED UP! The coalition seeks at least $60 billion in federal funding over the next decade for accessible outpatient treatment.
Video: Remembering local overdose victims:
It’s also pressing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to remove ultra-high dose opioids from the market, and to stop approving new ones. A campaign called #BILLIONSNOTMILLIONS, inspired by the $200 billion cigarette industry settlement, aims to hold drug manufacturers responsible for pushing prescription painkillers that have addicted Americans in all walks of life.
Some 72,000 Americans died from overdoses last year, according to Inestroza, who works to connect addicts with help. The Morris County Sheriff’s Office Hope One van, a mobile resource center, was among service providers at the rally.
Cheap heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller up to 100 times more potent than morphine, has proven a lethal combination, said Inestroza.
Last summer it killed Megan McQuaide, a 24-year-old Long Valley resident whose portrait was displayed prominently on Friday.
“People, families, friends, neighbors, the community needs to step up together to work this out. You’re not going to do this alone,” said Megan’s father, Fred McQuaide.
His daughter had played soccer and basketball at West Morris Mendham High School, was getting good grades at the College of New Jersey while working at a home supply store, and aspired to a nursing career.
A quiet person, she may have self-medicated to cope with her parents’ divorce, Fred McQuaide said
Megan went through rehab twice, and she was scheduled to meet with a new mentor who was the mom of an overdose victim. Megan died just before the meeting was supposed to happen, her father said.
The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office investigated but has not found who supplied Megan with the deadly drugs, Fred McQuaide said.
Ruthann Gaspari of Rockaway lost her son Robert Rebyak, 26, to an overdose five years ago. As a teen, Rebyak got busted for selling pot. When he eventually decided to straighten out, his turnaround was recognized with a Rotary Club award, said his mother.
“Then he met a girl who was a heroin addict. It was downhill from there,” Gaspari said.
Her message to parents is be alert to signs of addiction, and don’t be afraid to intervene.
“I didn’t think it would be my son. That’s someone else,” said Gaspari, who now works as a recovery coach.
Inestroza, who dates her rocky journey to upheavals in her mid-30s, said it’s crucial to speak up, and to remove the stigma associated with addiction.
She wants addicts to know that, with help, they can break free from the seductive grip of the “best feeling in the world.”
“The longer you stay clean, the peace of mind is incomparable,” Inestroza said.