Alicia Palermo-Reddy is a nurse on Staten Island who is known as “the addiction angel.” She helps families who have been touched by addiction, and whose loved ones are struggling, according to the New York Daily News.
Palermo-Reddy did her own research, educating herself about treatment programs, support groups, and even placing restraining orders. She works with treatment programs and clinicians to get people with addiction the help they need.
Palermo-Reddy first crossed paths with drug users during overnight shifts at a hospital detox program. “When I heard about heroin growing up, I thought about people in trailer parks with no teeth and black feet,” Palermo-Reddy told the Daily News. “Seeing these young, beautiful kids with sores on them and heartbreaking stories was very disturbing to me.” She says she realized there was a widespread problem that people weren’t talking about.
On Staten Island, two precincts lead all of NYC with the most opioid overdose deaths—the 122nd Precinct in the South Shore with 14 deaths, and the 120th Precinct on the North Shore with 12, as of May 2017. Last year, a Staten Island landlord, Jeff Gjeshbitraj, referred to the NYC’s southernmost borough as “the heroin capital of New York City.”
Palermo-Reddy also realized the immense toll it was taking on families. “These are mothers saying, ‘We’re at a loss. We don’t know what to do.’ How do you not help these people?” Her own three nephews have struggled with addiction, so she’s also experienced firsthand the impact that drug use has on family members.
When Palermo-Reddy heard that some parents felt uncomfortable in many of the support groups, she started her own. She also began a “Scared Straight” program for young people. According to a website advertising the program, it is “a forum to help make children aware of the horrific effects of drug abuse.”
It is worth noting that many fear-driven programs, like D.A.R.E.’s original program which began in the ’80s, have proven ineffective—and some data has even shown that kids who complete them were not any less likely to use drugs or alcohol.
However, the community-driven aspect of Palermo-Reddy’s work is clear, and has obviously been meaningful to those she’s helped. “She’s responsible for [saving] my son and so many others,” a woman named Margherita told the Daily News. “I don’t know what her reasons are. I don’t know what drives her. That’s why I say she’s an angel.”
Palermo-Reddy’s approach is one of compassion and tough love. “I don’t want you to bury your kid, so I’m going to tell you like it is,” she says. “With this disease, you don’t have time to waste.”