Massachusetts Department of Public Health
State Without Stigma program.
A peer-led support network for families dealing with addiction and recovery.
Mansfield Police and Mansfield Gridiron Club hosted an Opiate Awareness Night at the MHS Auditorium on Monday, June 6th. School Resource Officers Wright and Connor, along with organizers from the Gridiron Club of Mansfield were proud to have Cory Palazzi as the keynote speaker.
Cory was a prominent student athlete and National Honor Society student at Taunton High School who suffered a shoulder injury for which he was prescribed pain killers. He found himself addicted to the prescription opiates and later heroin.
It is no secret that the Commonwealth has seen an unprecedented increase in opioid use and, consequently, opioid-related deaths over the last four years. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, unintentional opioid-related deaths in the Commonwealth rose from 668 in 2012 to 1,526 in 2015. The DPH tracks opiates prescribed to patients in each county.
In the first quarter of 2016, there were 37,439 individuals receiving Schedule II Opioids, that's 6.8& of the population.
This isn't someone else's problem. This is happening here.
For 1 in 15 people, misuse of prescription pain medication leads to heroin use within 10 years.
In Mansfield, it's blunt talk on addiction from those who know best
Steven Marciano relates to the audience that the saddest day in his life was when he found out that his older brother died of an overdose. (Attleboro Sun/Chronicle Staff photo by Mark Stockwell)
Wednesday, June 8, 2016
BY RICK FOSTER SUN CHRONICLE STAFF
MANSFIELD - They were both intelligent young men, star athletes with good families and bright futures.
One, a nephew of the late heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano, had his own brush with fame as a wide receiver for University of Iowa. He later went to work for the Massachusetts State Lottery and was elected to the Brockton City Council.
The other, a talented young baseball player from Taunton scouted by the Seattle Mariners, missed out on a pro career but hoped to parlay the study skills that won him a place on the National Honor Society into a nursing degree.
But neither talented student athlete's story would have a happy ending, and for a reason neither man's family could have predicted.
Peter Marciano Jr., son of former Mansfield sporting goods store owner Peter Marciano Sr., died last December after shooting heroin, according to his younger brother Stephen. The habit grew out of painkillers prescribed after he suffered a serious shoulder injury in college.
Stephen, who spoke to a crowd of young Mansfield athletes and parents this week, said his brother's death followed years of struggle, attempts at rehab and relapse.
He was 48.
Cory Palazzi, 26, survived a devastating heroin overdose three years ago, but the brain damage it left rendered him legally blind, badly affected his ability to walk and talk and made dressing or feeding himself a near impossibility.
Neither Palazzi, who had starred in baseball at Taunton High, or his family ever believed that the pills he was given after he had shoulder surgery would turn into an addiction to hard drugs.
Palazzi, accompanied by his mother Lori Palazzi Gonsalves, appeared at Mansfield High School Monday in an opioid awareness session hosted by Mansfield police and the Gridiron Club.
Lori Palazzi said she never suspected her son, a good student from a close-knit, middle-class family, would become a heroin addict.
"If you are a parent, the three most dangerous words are, 'Not my kid,'" she said. "We never saw this coming."
Cory Palazzi said he initially was given pills to help with the pain after he underwent sports career-ending shoulder surgery. But after entering college, he became depressed. Drugs seemed to offer some relief.
"I liked the way Percocets made me feel," he told the crowd Monday. "Later, I went to a friend's house and he had some heroin. I tried it, and it was the best feeling I had ever had."
But before long, heroin took over his life. He no longer took the drug for pleasure. He shot up just to not feel sick.
To feed his addiction, he began pawning things around his parents' home, including his mother's jewelry.
"I used heroin to maintain my daily life," he said.
Three years ago in July, Cory was rushed to a hospital on the Cape after overdosing. He was unconscious, and not expected to live through the night.
Lori Palazzi Gonsalves describes that night as both the worst and the best of her life. It was the worst, she said, because of heroin and what it had done to her son and her family. But it was the best because he had survived and there was now, new hope.
Marciano and his family weren't so lucky.
When Stephen's older brother Peter died last December, it wasn't sudden. It was the culmination of 25 years of off-and-on addiction. And it turned a popular, effervescent young man with unlimited potential into a virtual shell of himself, Stephen said.
The Mansfield resident cautioned young athletes in the audience against experimenting with drugs.
"If you make the wrong decision today, it could lead to a decision in the future that you won't be in control of," he said. "Nobody ever set out to become a heroin addict."
Percocet and later Oxycontin use led his brother to heroin, Stephen said. On the day Peter died, he dropped off his young children at school, went home and put a needle in his arm. He never woke up. It was four days before Christmas.
"It destroyed my family," Stephen said.
Mansfield School Resource Officers Ken Wright and Tom Connor said they hoped Monday's forum would bring home to youngsters and parents that even in their comfortable, suburban surroundings, they are not immune to the dangers of heroin and other opioids.
Since Jan 1, Wright said, Mansfield has recorded 27 overdoses, six of them fatal.
"You might think this isn't a Mansfield problem, this is a nice town," Wright said. "It is a nice town. But this isn't just a Mansfield problem, it's an everywhere problem."
Connor urged parents to stay involved in their children's lives, to know their friends and activities, even into college. And if some tough love is required, Connor said, it's worth it to keep children free from drugs.
"Remember," he said. "You can say no."