Ridgites march against the scourge of drugs

No more: Memebers of Bay Ridge’s Muslim community call for action to curtail a local epidemic of opiate abuse and overdoses.
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

Members of Bay Ridge’s Muslim community came together last Saturday to highlight a growing scourge in the neighborhood — an epidemic of drug overdoses.

More than 60 people gathered at Leif Ericson Park and walked to the Islamic Center of Bay Ridge in remembrance of nine local youths who died from opiate overdoses in the past year.

“The number of deaths from drug overdoses has escalated in our community since 2001, with one of nine youths taking drugs. If our kids are destroyed then everything is destroyed,” said Dr. Husam Rimawi, a local physician.

Bay Ridge has the third-highest concentration of drug overdoses in the city, and the problem is especially acute among Arab and Muslim youth, who are often too ashamed to admit addiction and seek help.

“We have to stop placing a stigma on these young men and women. Let’s start taking preventive measures,” said José Solis, a Muslim Latino who lost his cousin to a drug overdose earlier this year. “Two months ago, I lost my own flesh and blood. I lost my cousin. He had nobody to turn to. A lot of us share the same story. This is a common occurrence. Somebody help him.”

The imam of the Islamic Center of Bay Ridge, Dr. Mohammed Elbar marched alongside Khader El-Ya-Teem, pastor of the Salam Arabic Lutheran Church, and local elected officials also joined the demonstration.

State Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) offered no-questions-asked assistance to those seeking help.

“The only way to stop it is to say something. Heroin is killing our kids. My office is on 74th Street and Fifth Avenue. We will guarantee no one will know who you are, we will get you treatment,” he told the crowd.

Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) said that he is working with the 68th Precinct to make sure more officers in the neighborhood are trained and equipped to administer naloxone, a heroin antidote that can reverse an overdose. He has also asked the NYPD to establish a new narcotics unit in Bay Ridge.

One of the final speakers outside of the Islamic Center was Donna Mae Depola, president of the Resource Training and Counseling Center, a drug rehabilitation facility at 39th Street in Sunset Park. Depola announced a fund-raiser on June 26 to fund the opening of a new satellite office in Bay Ridge which would offer low-cost stigma-free help for addicts in the community.

“It’s discrete. We don’t deny people because they have no money. We are a nonprofit,” said Depola.

Resource Training and Counseling Center fund-raiser at the Greenhouse Cafe [7717 Third Ave., between 77th and 78th streets in Bay Ridge, (718) 833–8200] June 26, 6–9 pm.

More from Around New York