Addicted on Long Island: Parents bring issue out of shadows
MASSAPEQUA - The parents of a popular Massapequa cheerleader who died of a heroin overdose eight years ago have spent much of the past years doing everything they can to keep another family from going through the same heartbreak and grief.
Natalie Ciappa was a talented singer and gifted student at Massapequa High School. She was found dead of an overdose by her parents, Victor and Doreen, inside a garage in Seaford.
"You get used to the pain, but it doesn't go away," says Victor Ciappa.
The 18-year-old's death was a wake-up call for many on Long Island. Heroin addiction wasn't just taking the lives of junkies in the back alley or the loner in the locker room anymore. This time, it was the girl next door.
Natalie's parents decided almost instantly that they would tell their story in an effort to bring heroin addiction out of the shadows.
"Parents whose kids are still battling [addiction], they don't want to give them the stigma. Our daughter's gone. We weren't saving her from anything by keeping quiet," says Doreen Ciappa.
For years, the Ciappas have spoken out at school assemblies, news conferences and elsewhere to advocate for heroin addiction awareness and education.
"You can't be afraid of telling the kids the gruesome truth," says Victor Ciappa. "People wet themselves when they're high on heroin. They throw up when they're high in heroin. They drool. You lose all bodily functions. You lose your soul."
Natalie died on June 21, the same day as her father's birthday. He says they do not celebrate on that date anymore.
According to Nassau and Suffolk officials, the number of heroin-related deaths and arrests have been on a steady incline since 2008.