Ann Marie Perrotto is a Staten Island mom who lost her son, once known as "Hurricane Chris" when he played baseball, to prescription painkiller addiction. Credit: Bess Adler
"You're not supposed to lose your children before yourself."
Those words, uttered quietly and hoarsely by Staten Island's borough president, summed up the searing pain experienced apparently disproportionately by Staten Island parents.
BP James Molinaro is just one Staten Islander who lost his son to painkiller addiction, and eventually overdose.
"There was no excuse for him to do what he did," Molinaro said at a press conference last week. "But he was ten-foot-tall and bulletproof."
In 2012, 190 New Yorkers died from overdoses related to prescription painkillers like Percocet, OxyContin, and Vicodin. Staten Island was hit with those deaths at three times the rate of the rest of the city.
The borough is disproportionately affected by prescription drug overdoses for reasons city officials can't quite pin down.
Health Commissioner Thomas Farley suggested a high rate of overdose in one area could be a result of a peer influence: doctors in a given location practice similarly.
"Physicians' practices change as doctors talk to each other," Farley said.
With that in mind, the Department of Health has conducted targeted outreached, visiting more than 1,000 health care providers throughout Staten Island this past summer.
They also launched a powerful television ad just a few weeks ago, featuring Ann Marie Perrotto, who lost her son to a prescription painkiller overdose.
Ann Marie's son Chris was a happy kid, she said, and a great athlete. Local papers referred to him as "Hurricane Chris" when he played baseball.
Chris was prescribed painkillers after a car accident. When he developed an addiction, Perrotto said he told her the need for it "was like a demon in the back of his head."
When she tried to get help for Chris, she said they were looked at treated like they were a bother.
"I was watching my son die and I had no control over it," Perrotto said.
Ultimately, Chris could not beat back that demon in his head: He passed away in 2011 at the age of 22.