Linda Oristano is a woman on a mission. Well, many missions. She’s quick to explain how a fentanyl strip works, and has a box full of overdose rescue kits in her car. She’s friendly, witty, and working hard to change the stigma of getting involved in a cause to which she’s devoted decades of her life.
The Northport resident took over as project coordinator of the Northport-East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force (NENDATF) in January of 2022, and has been putting much energy and enthusiasm into the position ever since. Her passion and commitment to recovery are evident in just a quick interaction; last week she sat down with the Journal to discuss the group’s goals as its biggest – and only – fundraiser of the year, the Color Run, quickly approaches.
While events like the Color Run gather a crowd, garner attention and raise funds for the group’s cause, they also promote what’s at the core of the NENDATF: awareness, education and prevention for the community, for parents, and for children, Linda said. And that happens year round – and works best with a steady flow of volunteers.
The stigma, that you have to be a straight-laced, non-drinker to join the NENDATF is acting as a barrier for some people getting involved, Linda said; she hopes that setting up community meetings in the near future can help break those barriers, attract volunteers and create a mutually beneficial relationship between the NENDATF and the communities it serves.
“Our community is so important and they need to feed us information, too,” Linda said. “They need to see what’s happening and how we can help them and how they can help us. So we need them. Our children need them.”
A personal connection and love of recovery (she’s 35 years in herself) helped guide Linda to the NENDATF, and while multiple career paths took her in many different directions, it seems she’s been prepping for this latest role for some time.
About ten years ago, Linda became a certified spiritual director through the Sisters of St. Joseph’s in Brentwood, where she learned the art of contemplative listening. She is also a certified recovery peer advocate (CRPA), a recovery coach, and more recently received her bachelor’s degree in community and human services.
“There are so many people out there that need help, or they need somebody just to talk to and I wanted to be part of that,” Linda told the Journal.
Getting the word out to children about alcohol, drugs, tobacco and vaping is one of the NENDATF’s main goals. Linda believes a dialogue with young kids should begin early on, certainly by middle school. “If you don’t talk to them then, you’re going to lose them in high school,” she said.
But the conversation shouldn’t end there, she added: “It’s really important for us to engage youth, but also parents and community. To me, we can do all the programs we want to for children, but we have to have the support of the parents. The parents are the number one teachers of the children. We need to support that. We need to give the parents what they need in order to have the language to talk about issues like this, because it’s challenging.”
The NENDATF works closely and has a great relationship with the Northport-East Northport school district, Linda said, and is always pushing for prevention programs in the schools on vaping, alcohol and drug prevention. RAP (Recovery, Awareness and Prevention) Week is scheduled to begin in all school levels on October 24. The NENDATF also hosts active parenting programs that teach caregivers how to talk to their kids about everything from drinking (energy drinks included, which teach kids how to have highs and lows, and can build a dependency and reliance “especially if you have an addictive behavior,” said Linda), to the dangers of fentanyl, and opioids.
A program Linda is especially proud of is 1Life at Northport High School, a youth coalition that works to spread awareness to their classmates and throughout the community. The group meets weekly, attends events, and is having a big post-Covid comeback, going from a large pre-pandemic group, to just one member immediately after Covid, to a current and healthy 18 members, ranging in age from freshman to seniors. Linda hopes to spread the word about the program, with a goal of getting one started in the middle schools as well.
Recently 1Life participated in NENDATF’s annual clean-up at Crab Meadow Beach, where the majority of items collected were drug- or alcohol-related. The event offered a way to make visible to both students and community members the spirit and mission of programs like 1Life.
“We want parents to know about 1Life because we want them to encourage their children to go and join it,” Linda said.
Also available to community members thanks to the NENDATF is NARCAN (a nasal spray used in the case of an opioid overdose) training, offered at the local libraries; the next training is in December. And those fentanyl strips, they’re a litmus test of sorts to test drugs for traces of the oftentimes deadly additive used by dealers in many common drugs including marijuana and fake prescription pills sold on the streets as Xanax or OxyContin. If even the slightest amount of fentanyl is in a drug, it can kill you, said Linda.
“It’s about education,” said Linda. “People need to know. The more knowledge we give them, the better for them, and for us.”
Every goal of Linda’s comes back though, to her most immediate mission of getting more volunteers to help continue the work of the NENDATF, a group of community members with a common interest and mission: drug and alcohol awareness and education, especially to the younger generation, so that they can make informed decisions about potentially dangerous situations. “I really need to focus on building capacity, that’s what is going to make or break the program,” she said. “We need people in the community that want to get involved with this.”
To become a member of the NENDATF, or to inquire about volunteer opportunities, click here. Linda is also looking to find representatives from some of the 12 sectors the NENDATF works with, including community members in business, law enforcement, media, healthcare or faith-based organizations.
This year’s Color Run is scheduled for Saturday, October 22, from 8am to 12pm at Northport Middle School. For more information, or to register, visit www.ndatf.org. Registration closes Friday, October 21.