New York City teacher and mother Susan Salomone never set out to become a crusader; that role was thrust upon her when her 29-year-old son, Justin, died of an opiate overdose. Justin started using marijuana in high school, and despite several attempts at rehab, he succumbed to a heroin overdose in 2012.
Following his death, Salomone poured her pain into an article titled “Saving Justin,” which was published in the Mahopac News. The article led to Salomone and her husband meeting Carol and Lou Christiansen, another couple who had lost their son to an overdose.
The two couples went on to found Drug Crisis in Our Backyard, an organization dedicated to helping families struggling with opiate addiction and raising the public’s awareness of it. This was no easy feat, since, as Salomone explains, “At the time, no one was talking about this issue — especially not for middle-class families in good school districts.”
With degrees in both education and counseling, Salomone works tirelessly to educate the public about substance abuse and help families navigate the world of addiction. She was appointed to Governor Cuomo’s Task Force to Combat Heroin, a group charged with developing a comprehensive plan to end the heroin and opioid crisis in New York. As the executive director of Drug Crisis in Our Backyard, Salomone speaks to students and young people in an effort to prevent addiction. She helps the loved ones of addicts cope with the challenges of drug addiction, in addition to offering resources and support services. Through educational forums, Salomone strives to reduce the stigma of addiction by increasing the awareness that it’s a disease, not a choice.
Salomone is convinced that channeling her personal pain into advocacy was necessary for her to heal. “Doing this work makes me feel Justin’s presence,” she says. “I think he’s the one steering this ship.”