TYSA Launches “IN OUR BACKYARD”: A Virtual Campaign Bringing Awareness to Opioid Usage In Communities of Color

Over the past 10 years on SI and nationally, opioids (starting with prescription narcotics and moving into heroin) have become a growing concern. A large infusion of attention and consequently funding has come into the local community from the federal, state, city and local level to combat opioids. However, there are critiques of the current energy around opioids given that the heroin epidemic of the 70’s and 80’s, which primarily impacted black and low income communities, received little attention and almost no funding or compassion. Additionally, there is misinformation around the types of people that opioid use is impacting on Staten Island with the majority of focus on white, middle class, suburban residents despite rates of use and overdose among Black and Brown people and North Shore neighborhoods. 

TYSA aims to bring attention to the actual state of opioid use and overdose among communities of color, and build the capacity of local providers and clinicians to better prevent and treat opioid and other illicit drug use among communities of color on Staten Island.

On Wednesday, October 28th, at 6:00 PM, join TYSA as they officially launch a virtual “In Our Backyard” Campaign to bring awareness to the use of opioid and other drugs and its impacts on Staten Island communities of color. This Facebook Live event will feature guest speakers from CHASI, Project Hospitality, PAIGE ONE ASSIST, and the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office who will provide a history on delivering culturally relevant behavioral health services. The event will also feature a PSA created by TYSA youth consultants, and an opportunity for Q&A. This will kick-off a series of strategies that will increase awareness and build capacity of partners. Any person interested in attending must register here: [https://www.eventbrite.com/e/in-our-backyard-campaign-launch-tickets-125528409853]

For more information contact Abigail Batista at abigail@sipcw.org or 718-226-0257.

Guest speakers will include:

Ericker Onaga is the Chief Program Officer at Community Health Action of Staten Island (CHASI), a division of Sun River Health Care. In this role, Ms. Onaga oversees their complete portfolio of outreach, education, prevention and direct support services for populations most affected by health disparities – the poor and working poor, low income people with chronic illnesses, persons with criminal justice involvement, substance users, domestic violence survivors, people of color and the LGBTQ community. Ms. Onaga has a wealth of experience on issues faced by low-income individuals with HIV/AIDS, behavioral health disorders, housing instability, and food insecurity.

Raymond Jordan is a Peer Specialist who has worked for Project Hospitality for almost 2 years. He works in the Staten Island community to help with the opioid crisis and drug epidemic that has taken the lives of those that were really close to him. This work is very personal to him, as someone who has lived with the disease of addiction and who recently celebrated 3 years clean and away from drugs.

Lee Garr has worked in human services as an administrator, advocate, case manager and classroom instructor in the New York City area with individuals, adults, children and families for over 20 years. Currently, Lee serves as the Vice President of Community-Based Programs at Community Health Action of Staten Island. Previously, Lee served as Director of Programs at Amida Care, Assistant Director of Health Homes at CAMBA and was an adjunct professor at LaGuardia Community College. Lee holds a MA degree in Counseling from Manhattan College and is completing his full CASAC certification.

Debbie-Ann Paige is a public historian specializing in local African American history and a professional genealogist. She is the founder of PAIGE ONE ASSIST, a client-centered legacy research company focused on prompt, professional commitment to service. She is a newly appointed member of the New York City Council task force created to examine monuments, statues, public art and historical markers on city-owned property. She is also a senior policy analyst with the Council of State Governments working with state policymakers and key stakeholders on issues relevant to veterans, communities of color and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Upon taking office in 2016, District Attorney Michael McMahon made it a priority to transform the Richmond County DA’s Office (RCDA) into a modern prosecutor’s office focused on precision prosecution, problem-solving crime prevention, and bridge building between law enforcement and the communities it protects. McMahon has utilized his broad and deep experience in law and public service to implement and pursue the issues he promised Staten Islanders to address. He has successfully attacked the Island’s criminal justice issues: From the opioid epidemic to traditional street crime and gun violence, and from domestic violence to economic crime. McMahon continues to work with partners in law enforcement, especially our police officers and detectives, to drive down crime numbers and keep Staten Islanders safe.

TYSA Recreational Marijuana Statement

TYSA Recreational Marijuana Statement

Despite various prevention efforts and data demonstrating negative social and physiological impacts, recreational marijuana legalization is in motion in New York State. In the fall of 2018, the state hosted a series of community listening sessions. TYSA, a coalition of over 50 different partners on Staten Island working to reduce youth and young adult substance use, provided testimony urging NYS to create a system of oversight that minimizes youth exposure, makes proportionate investments in prevention, treatment and recovery, and allows local jurisdictions the ability to regulate price, promotion and availability of marijuana.

Impact of the Issue

TYSA opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana due to its negative effects on the developing brain and its ability to hinder motivation and academic achievement among youth.

In other localities that have legalized marijuana such as Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C.- reported marijuana use in the past month has increased among youth aged 12-17. On Staten Island, we’ve seen increases in marijuana use among our middle and high school aged students. Increased use among youth is troubling due to the impact it has on brain development. In a recent study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry*, researchers observed lasting effects of adolescent marijuana use on important cognitive functions that appear to be more pronounced than those observed for alcohol. Increased use has also resulted in an uptick in admissions to treatment programs and an observed increase in hospitalizations among youth who are vaping marijuana wax which has higher levels of THC. Youth marijuana use has also impacted our local education system, where schools are struggling to find ways to address the influx of students attending class under the influence.

Research shows that perception of harms and consequences is a driving factor in whether youth will use substances. The legalization of recreational marijuana further erodes the perception of harms and consequences for both youth and adults.  The percent of adults that believe that marijuana use among youth is acceptable has increased since 2012. If trusted adults in the community are sending the message that youth use is okay and young people do not perceive marijuana as dangerous, consumption rates will go up. Young people deserve to reach their full potential. The longer we can delay initiation and regular use, the less likely that a dependence or addiction will develop.

NYS must take lessons learned from the alcohol and tobacco industries, which pose a tremendous burden to the public health system and have a long history of targeting youth as the next generation of consumers.

Prevention Strategy Recommendations

  • Accurately educate youth and adults on marijuana
  • Guide adults in safely securing their marijuana
  • Provide talking points for adults to have factual conversations around the harms of marijuana use

Regulatory Recommendations

  • Regulate marijuana advertising, both in content and placement, with advertising restrictions around schools, churches and on public transportation
  • Require that all businesses selling marijuana for recreational use undergo a rigorous licensing process to be overseen by a government agency
  • Set the minimum age to purchase recreational marijuana to 25 to further reduce youth exposure and to delay initiation of use
  • Establish guidelines in retailer density especially in lower socio-economic neighborhoods.
  • Allocate a proportionate percentage of these revenues to prevention, treatment and recovery services to ensure supports are in place to accommodate the increase in use among youth and adults
  • Allow jurisdictions the ability to have some control over the regulation of the marijuana market without penalty

Local communities are often the most successful at surfacing issues and developing targeted strategies and policies and therefore should have the ability to have a say in how marijuana is priced and regulated, unlike alcohol, which is regulated at the state level. We should look for lessons learned from other states that have embarked on marijuana regulation on how to effectively and appropriately manage a substance that has documented negative outcomes on youth. The more proactive we can be in regulating markets such as marijuana, alcohol and tobacco, the better the odds our youth have of getting through their formative years without developing a dependence on substances.

* Morin, J. F. G., Afzali, M. H., Bourque, J., Stewart, S. H., Séguin, J. R., O’Leary-Barrett, M., & Conrod, P. J. (2018). A Population-Based Analysis of the Relationship Between Substance Use and Adolescent Cognitive Development. American Journal of Psychiatry, appi-ajp.

SNAP Cuts Would Worsen Opioid Crisis

As a native Staten Islander, I am deeply concerned about proposals coming from Washington D.C. that take an axe to SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and how cuts will affect people in our borough struggling with addiction.

In Staten Island, in New York more broadly, and across the country, millions are struggling with the realities of opioid addiction and the challenges of recovery. Since the start of the epidemic, policymakers and politicians in both parties, including Congressman Donovan, have come to recognize that substance use disorders are a public health issue and that recovery requires treatment. Yet as someone who works for people who have struggled with addiction, I know that ending addiction requires more than medicine and therapy. It also means rebuilding lives and ensuring recovery isn’t derailed by something as fundamental as a struggle to put food on the table.

That’s where the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called food stamps, comes in. As one of our nation’s most powerful and effective poverty-reduction programs, SNAP helps more than 2.9 million New Yorkers afford healthy meals and on Staten Island alone, SNAP helps over 1 in 10 residents with basic nutrition needs.. SNAP works by providing modest benefits to people with very limited means – about $1.49 per person per meal – but it is proven to help people get back on their feet faster.

Despite its effectiveness, the House Agriculture Committee has proposed cutting the program by more than $17 billion and diverting much of that money to a risky new scheme of ineffective training programs and unforgiving penalties in their version of the 2018 Farm Bill, the legislation that funds SNAP. For every meal the 2018 Farm Bill takes from the plates of those with little, it increases spending on bureaucracy. In fact, it increases administrative costs by $15 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The bill also makes sweeping and harmful changes to SNAP that would increase paperwork, waste taxpayer dollars, and reverse previous efforts to improve the program and reach those in need of food assistance. All of this is done without any evidence to support such a dramatic change to the program.

For New Yorkers struggling with addiction, the Farm Bill under consideration would mean new and higher barriers to recovery. That’s because many of the harsh rules and requirements will apply to people just finishing their treatment. Under its “one strike and you’re out” provision, someone who doesn’t prove every month that they work enough hours would be kicked off SNAP for an entire year, unless they get a job that meets the requirement or requalify through an exemption such as disability ( our government does not define chronic substance abuse disorder as a disability, even though it is a deadly disease); the second time, they would lose benefits for three years. Instead of planning for their future, people recovering from opioid addiction will be forced to navigate unnecessary red tape just so they can feed their families. Unfortunately, this could result in many falling through the cracks, losing food assistance, and risking a dangerous fall back into addiction.

This week at our Spring Brunch, we heard the testimony of a Staten Islander who has struggled with addiction and has now achieved more than twenty years of recovery and serves tirelessly the recovering community of Staten Island addicts and alcoholics with all his heart.  Elwood, like so many others, used  SNAP benefits to support him in the long road to recovery. It would have been a more treacherous road without SNAP benefits.

Putting those already struggling with our national health crisis, like Elwood, in further jeopardy isn’t kind, wise, or necessary. It’s a step backward in a devastating fight that has already cost our borough too many lives.

I have been impressed by Congressman Donovan’s commitment to addressing the opioid epidemic. His efforts to increase awareness and target the causes of addiction are critical, and I hope to work with him to make them successful.  I know that these efforts must include protecting SNAP.

To do this, I urge Rep. Donovan to reject the House Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill and any attempt to make drastic cuts and changes to SNAP. Those in recovery must have access to the resources they need rather than fear and worry about how they will feed themselves and their families. Our leaders must support policy changes to end this epidemic — not ones that make it worse, as cuts to SNAP would do.

Recovery from addiction is a long road, and we have a lot of work left to do to confront this epidemic head-on. We need dedicated leaders like Rep. Donovan to ensure we continue to place the lives of our family members struggling with addiction first and not let partisan efforts take us to a place of even more suffering.

*Rev. Terry Troia serves as President of Project Hospitality. 

Staten Island Advocates Rally to Demand More Aggressive Action by Congress and the President to End the Opioid Addiction Crisis

In alignment with International Overdose Awareness Day, community members and advocates gathered to demand a forceful federal response to the prescription opioid and heroin crisis. The FED UP! rally, including a sober softball game and candlelight vigil at Mount Loretto, took place yesterday and was hosted by Carl’s House, Dynamic Youth Community and many local organizations including the Tackling Youth Substance Abuse (TYSA) coalition.

The Staten Island rally was among dozens that were scheduled to occur in cities and towns across the United States coordinated by FED UP!, a coalition of organizations from across the country representing hundreds of thousands of families and individuals affected by the epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose deaths.

The United States is in the midst of the worst drug addiction epidemic in its history. Since 1997, rates of opioid use disorder have increased more than 900%. The sharp increase has led to record high levels of overdose deaths. Staten Island suffered over 100 opioid overdose deaths in 2016 alone. Though community organizations and local elected officials have responded with comprehensive and innovative programs and services, there remains a need.

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In addition to funding for substance use disorder treatment, community members also organized to raise awareness of the opioid issue in the local community. Staten Island has a high need for resources but is simultaneously uniquely poised to respond as a collective in times of tragedy. This rally served as both an avenue to speak out and an opportunity to celebrate the resilience of Staten Island.

The event also raised awareness about the damage opioids and heroin is doing to young adults in our communities and educated people about treatment options available to those who need help. “We at DYC are doing all we can to alert, educate, and treat this addiction,” said William A. Fusco, DYC Executive Director. “We are working with the media: radio, television, magazines- all to spread the work and help educate the public, to help prevent more devastation.”

Many advocates at the rally were people who have lost loved ones to heroin and prescription opioids. “Heroin and opioids have claimed many lives on Staten Island,” said Marco Di Donna, Carl’s House. “There are resources in the community to prevent more families from suffering devastating losses.”

TYSA Campaign Urges Teens to Avoid Alcohol and Other Risky Behaviors on Prom Night

STATEN ISLAND, NY (June 19, 2017) – Prom night is a rite of passage for many teenagers, and the Tackling Youth Substance Abuse (TYSA) coalition is reminding young Staten Islanders to watch their alcohol consumption during prom in a recently unveiled awareness campaign. At Staten Island high school prom venues, members of the TYSA coalition are distributing signs and stickers to prompt youth to think about their choices.

As a part of this campaign, youth and adult volunteers are distributing stickers with prevention messaging on them to local businesses which see prom-related traffic (such as florists, limo vendors, tuxedo and dress shops and salons) across Staten Island. Additionally, tent cards are placed in the restrooms of prom venues. The message is simple but powerful, stating, “Make this a night to remember, not to regret.”



“This important campaign reminds our teens, and hopefully their parents, that prom can be a memorable night without consuming alcohol or engaging in risky behaviors,” said Anne DeMarzo of SMART Recovery.

“We would like to thank each and every one of the dress shops, makeup stores, florists, prom venues, and other businesses that so willingly participated in this important campaign in order to keep Staten Island teenagers safe,” said Karina Feldman, New Dorp High School student who shared the stickers with 22 businesses. “It is my hope that by sharing these helpful reminders in businesses and in prom venues, that other Staten Island teenagers will think twice about their actions on prom night.”

There’s a long history of excessive alcohol consumption on prom night, and Staten Island teens are not immune from this trend. In fact, 15.3% of 12-17 year olds on Staten Island reported binge drinking over the last 30 days, meaning that they had five or more drinks in a row one or more times within the past two weeks. Historically, Staten Island has seen higher alcohol use rates among youth compared to the rest of New York City. In fact, 27.3% of youth ages 12-17 reported drinking alcohol in the last 30 days , with the average age of first use at only age 13.2. From pre-prom festivities, to adult supplied alcohol in limos and after parties, prom night is known for dangerous behaviors among teens.

The Youth Development Survey (YDS), which TYSA conducted in 2016, also found that nearly 20 percent of Staten Island youth ages 12-17 reported getting alcohol from someone they know under the age of 21.

With help from the Hilton Garden Inn, Island Chateau, Old Bermuda Inn, El Caribe Country Club, and Pier Sixty, volunteers placed tent cards in the restrooms of prom venues, reaching an estimated 2,677 at the following proms: Michael J. Petrides, New Dorp, Tottenville, McKee, Wagner, McCown, Port Richmond, and St. Joseph Hill Academy. Flowers By Bernard, Eltingville Florist, and Avanti Beauty Salon also distributed over 350 stickers to students attending the prom. Additionally, 22 businesses within the Staten Island mall participated in the campaign, sharing the stickers at their checkout counters and where customers would see them.

The TYSA coalition would like to thank our volunteers, the schools, and the prom venues for their cooperation in this project.

To learn more about TYSA, to join the TYSA coalition, or to request signage for your business, visit HTTP://TYSA.NYC or contact Anna Bledsoe at 718-226-0257.



The Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness (SIPCW) is a non-profit organization established more than 20 years ago to promote wellness and to improve the health of the Staten Island community through collaboration and a multidisciplinary approach. Focused on advances in behavioral health and physical wellness, SIPCW provides support to initiatives which move towards the integration of these vital issues.


Tackling Youth Substance Abuse (TYSA) is a coalition of people and organizations who have come together with a mission to decrease youth and young adult substance misuse on Staten Island. It is a dynamic partnership of both private and non-profit organizations; city and state government agencies; philanthropists; parents, teachers and teens, many of who have been working to combat alcohol and drug abuse for years. The TYSA Initiative focuses all of its members into using their resources to achieve the same goals. Staten Island doctors, pharmacists, law enforcement officials, drug treatment providers, hospitals, educators and youth organizations work together through TYSA to help one another, and the whole community, to combat substance misuse among youth and young adults.


Groups to NYC Council Members: Stop Alcohol Advertising to Kids on Public Transit

WASHINGTON, D.C. − New York City should protect public health and promote health equity by refusing to allow advertisements for alcohol from its public transportation system, said Public Citizen, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Center for Science in the Public Interest in a letter to New York City Council members today.

A letter was sent to each council member who has not yet signed on to co-sponsor Resolution 922-2015, which calls on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the governor and the state legislature to prohibit alcohol advertisements on subways, buses and other New York City Transit property.

According to research published earlier this month in the Journal of Urban Health, advertisements for unhealthy foods and beverages, including alcohol, in Bronx subway stations are more likely to be found in Bronx neighborhoods with higher rates of poverty, lower educational attainment, higher percentages of black and Hispanic residents, and more children.

“Alcohol and junk food companies are using the New York City public transportation system to target people of color and low-income residents who often lack access to healthy food options or health resources,” said Kristen Strader, campaign coordinator for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert program. “It is unethical for the MTA to hold children and youth as a captive audience for alcohol advertisers, considering that underage drinking is one of the leading causes of injury and death among young people.”

Hundreds of thousands of children and youth use the New York City subway to get to and from school every day.

“It’s unconscionable to think that children riding the bus or subway to and from school are subjected to ads that glorify and encourage drinking of alcoholic beverages,” said David Monahan, campaign manager of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “Research shows these ads work on young people − all too well − and lead to underage drinking and a host of health and social consequences. We urge the New York City Council to join the long list of cities that protect kids from seeing alcohol ads on public transit.”

Michael Jacobson, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, added, “With alcoholism such a problem in New York, the city should be fighting it at every turn and not abetting it.”

Read the letter.

Letter to the Editor: Combatting Overdoses in Staten Island Public Restrooms

If you’ve been paying attention, this week wasn’t the first time you saw a tragic headline about a heroin or opioid overdose in a restroom on Staten Island. At Tackling Youth Substance Abuse (TYSA) we have been following trends and data, and have noted the uptick of (often fatal) overdoses in both public and business restrooms.

TYSA Reminds Staten Islanders to Dispose of Unused Prescriptions on National Drug Take Back Day

On Saturday, October 22 the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will celebrate National Drug Take Back Day to remind the public to prevent pill abuse and theft by ridding their homes of potentially dangerous expired, unused, and unwanted prescription drugs.