By Chris Mellides
Heroin has put a chokehold on Long Island communities, with the number of heroin users and drug arrests rising over the past few years.
In January, then-Northport Village police chief, Eric Brikenthal reported 44 drug arrests involving the dangerous opiate for 2014, up from 22 confirmed arrests in 2013. In just one year, arrests doubled, and police say that they expect the numbers will continue to grow.
For Dix Hills residents Jody and John Brower, the consequences of heroin abuse are all too real. In June 2014, the parents of three lost their son John to a drug overdose.
“He was addicted to oxycodone, and we all know oxycodone is a gateway drug, Brower said. Now that it’s become harder to get, it escalated to where he tried heroin.”
Brower says that his late son had been in rehab numerous times, but after 59 days of sobriety, he relapsed.
Following John’s tragic death, the Brower family felt the need to speak out against drug abuse and raise awareness with the goal of helping young people held captive by heroin addiction.
In search of answers the Browers discovered The Outreach Program, an organization established in 1980 to provide treatment to those addicted to drugs and alcohol, particularly teenagers.
“The fact that the average stay at Outreach is outside of the realm of what your insurance covers is crucial. I believe their average stay is between 12 and 14 months,” Brower said. “Right now, if you have health insurance, it covers 28 or 30 days of rehab. That’s nowhere near enough time. And there is no aftercare when you come out of rehab.”
A meeting was scheduled between the Browers and Outreach through a mutual friend, with both parties deciding that working together to raise funding for Outreach would prove useful in bringing drug awareness to Long Islanders.
“We as a family have taken a stance, we’re not going to sugar coat how my kids lost their brother and we lost our son,” said Brower. “We’re trying to raise awareness and try to get something positive out of losing him. And if we can help save somebody else’s life and save another family the heartache that we went through, that is our goal."
In working towards that goal, the family founded the John Brower Jr. Foundation. To date, they have donated more than $16,000 to Outreach. The couple’s two other children, Kristen and Robert, have also gotten involved in various fundraising efforts.
Robert has helped through his work with the family accounting firm by organizing the foundation, while Kristen established a walk at Towson University in Maryland, where she goes to school, and has raised hundreds of dollars.
“This is something you need to discuss with your children. It’s not something we need to sweep under the rug,” said Robert Brower. “I would rather have kids be armed with education to know exactly what can happen to them if they go ahead and enter into this downward spiral.”
The next fundraising event planned for the foundation is the John Brower, Jr. Memorial 5K Walk to benefit Outreach. It will be held at Jones Beach on Oct. 10.
Brower says that other activities are being planned, for what the family hopes will be a charity that has the potential to go nation-wide.
“We've pledged to continue this fight as long as we can so the drug problem can be highlighted,” said Brower. “Someone has to step up and do something about addiction.”
For more information on the John Brower Jr. Foundation, and to register for the 5K walk, visit johnbrowerjrfoundation.org.