Alicia Palermo-Reddy, 47, a registered nurse who helps families struggling with addiction, has been chosen a 2016 Staten Island Advance Woman of Achievement. Alicia Reddy’s addiction helpline is always open.
The registered nurse says she started fielding calls on her own a few years back from people struggling with drug problems and their families who were looking for support. At times, the demand could be overwhelming, but Reddy, 47, says she’d never ignore a call if it could mean saving a life.
And she has saved numerous ones.
Scrolling through her cellphone during a recent interview at her Huguenot home, where she lives with her husband and two children, Reddy read several thankful text messages from people who she has helped over the past few years.
There’s the 31-year-old father in recovery who she called every day while he went through detox, and a 27-year-old heroin addict who she helped win a scholarship to a rehab center in Florida after both of the man’s brothers died of a drug overdose, to name a couple.
“I couldn’t believe I made it this far out of a dark place,” reads one message to Reddy. “You get all these calls about ‘this one is gone, but this one is still alive’ and I can’t thank you enough for what you have given back to me.”
Reddy was first inspired to fight back against Staten Island’s heroin and prescription pill epidemic after seeing people in her own family struggle with drug addiction. She began holding support group meetings in her back yard for parents who needed help finding treatment for their children.
The meetings quickly grew in size as the Island’s drug epidemic worsened.
The Island recorded the highest rate of overdose deaths in the city in 2014, according to the most recent data from the city Health Department.
That year, 74 borough residents died of a drug overdose, spiking from 64 in 2013.
The troubling number of drug deaths prompted Reddy to launch her grassroots organization, Addiction Angel, to offer increased resources to a wider audience. Her drug awareness forum for parents and children is held every few months at Island schools; they draw anywhere from 400 to 700 people.
“When I first started this I never knew we would be in the height of a heroin epidemic five years later and losing all these young lives. It makes me sick,” Reddy said.
At one of her recent “Scared Straight” meetings at Tottenville High School, more than 700 people packed the school’s auditorium to hear powerful stories of addiction from both recovering drug users and families who have lost loved ones to an overdose. The meeting also featured tips from law enforcement and health care experts.
“Parents have to stop waiting. I don’t know if it’s because they’re scared, but parents are in huge denial and aren’t educated,” Reddy said.
Reddy always had a strong desire to help people, she said.
After having two children, she enrolled in nursing school at the College of Staten Island, graduating in 2006.
“9/11 prompted me to become a nurse because I felt so lost and hopeless, and I wanted to help people but didn’t know how,” she said.
Currently a nurse at Staten Island University Hospital, Prince’s Bay, Reddy learned firsthand how much addiction can ruin lives. She was working part time in the hospital’s detox unit at the start of her career, and treating a myriad of patients going through withdrawal.
“I knew I needed to do something when I was first a detox nurse and I had these young beautiful kids, my own children’s ages, addicted to heroin. It was horrible. I couldn’t believe it. I used to sit there and cry with them when I would hear their story,” Reddy said.
Despite her efforts, she says Staten Island’s drug epidemic has only gotten worse, and blamed a lack of treatment options for contributing to the problem.
“There’s enough resources for people, but there’s not enough beds, Reddy explained. “Thirty-three rehab beds and 23 detox beds here. That’s a huge problem. There are thousands of addicts on Staten Island.”
Reddy said she’s in the process of registering her organization as a not-for-profit group so she can expand her outreach efforts.
In the meantime, she keeps her cellphone close at hand, ready to pick up for anyone who reaches out for help.
“This is what I want to do the rest of my life. I have a passion for it,” Reddy said.
By Ryan Lavis | email@example.com
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