Lila Mazzola has a terrible story to tell to anyone willing to listen. So does Anthony Sideri.
Mazzola is a Derry, N.H., mother who lost her eldest son Peter in January to a heroin overdose. Peter, captain of his sports teams while in high school at Pinkerton Academy, was just 25.
Sideri, 33, of North Andover is a former heroin addict who has been clean for eight years. The low point for him came in 2007 when he was arrested after trying to rob a bank for money to buy drugs. The stint in jail probably saved his life.
Mazzola and Sideri recently spoke at community gatherings aimed at addressing the heroin and opiate crisis sweeping the region. Mazzola spoke at a discussion on addiction held at the Greater Derry Boys and Girls Club. Sideri told his story at a forum on opiate addiction at Memorial Hall Library in Andover.
Such gatherings and the willingness of people like Mazzola and Sideri to tell their stories are vital in the battle against the heroin crisis. Plain, honest talk about the ease with which one can fall into addiction can, we hope, encourage others never to take that first, potentially fatal, step.
Mazzola does not hesitate to emphasize to her audience the brutal facts of addiction.
“Before I came here I stopped at the cemetery,” Mazzola said.
Peter had been in treatment twice for heroin addiction and after leaving the treatment center in the summer of 2014, his mother believed he was drug-free. But in December, he required surgery. His doctor prescribed painkillers after the operation, despite Peter’s warning that he was a recovering addict. He was soon again using heroin, Mazzola said. He died Jan. 3.
Sideri came from a solid, middle-class background. Growing up, he took a dim view of drug use.
Sideri earned a spot on his high school’s varsity hockey team as a freshman. As a sophomore, he saw other athletes using alcohol and marijuana.
“Before that, I didn’t have friends that drank. I didn’t have friends that smoked weed,” Sideri said. “When I saw an athlete, especially someone on my own team, someone I looked up to, doing those things, it immediately made it not so bad.”
Sideri did not go to college after high school, but took night classes and often visited his friends at their college campuses. During those visits, Sideri saw friends take a Percocet before drinking to get a little more drunk.
Sideri soon developed a tolerance to Percocet and began taking the more powerful OxyContin. When he began to build up a tolerance to OxyContin, there was a next logical step.
“I ended up switching from OxyContin to heroin, and that wasn’t even a big step,” Sideri said. “As a kid from North Andover, I didn’t even know what heroin was. I never knew anyone that used it, I had never seen it, I only ever heard the word ‘heroin.’’’
For nearly two years, Sideri led a seemingly normal life as a heroin user. But he began to crave a stronger high, the kind he could get by injecting heroin with a needle.
Sideri’s life soon fell apart. He lost jobs, ran out of money and was kicked out of his apartment.
Sideri and another addict devised a plan to get some money. Sideri’s counterpart walked into a bank in Danvers and handed a teller a cellphone. Sideri was on the other end claiming to have a hostage. They were caught by police after a short chase.
That day in 2007 was the last time Sideri used drugs. Sideri was convicted and sentenced to 12 months in court-ordered rehab and an additional 22 months in jail.
“Drugs took me somewhere that I would never take myself,” Sideri said. “I almost became a different person. I want to be a resource to a lot of different communities. I think the best thing I can do is tell my story.”
What Sideri and Mazzola are doing is invaluable.
The battle against heroin and opiate addiction will not be won overnight. But with persistence and commitment, our community can make positive strides and save lives. It is particularly important to get the message out to young people, who face tremendous pressure from peers to go along with the group and who too often believe, falsely, they are immortal.
It is imperative that we do so. The stakes are high, as Lila Mazzola can attest.
“Heaven help you if it hits your home,” she said. “We have too many calls for overdoses and we have lost too many people. You need to communicate with your children.”