NORTH SALEM, N.Y.--The loss of a friend to an opioid overdose in February was a devastating blow to 24-year-old Nick Chiappetta and his group of childhood friends. Just as the reality of the first death had sunk in, a second friend passed the same way four months later. The victims were 22 and 27 years old, respectively.
“It was a rough couple of months,” Chiappetta of North Salem said. “That’s when I said I’d rather have a tournament than go to another funeral.”
On a mission to respond to his grief and contribute toward a solution to the opioid epidemic, Chiappetta searched the internet for an organization he might be able to assist. He found information on the Angels at Risk Foundation, located in Los Angeles.
Through educational programs for individuals and families, the non-profit takes a preventive approach to addressing the issues that lead to addiction early on, as well as offering resources and support to addicts and their families. The approach appealed to Chiappetta, who in addition to his two friends, had seen his older brother’s struggle with opioid addiction up-close.
“You can’t help an addict unless they want to help themselves,” he said.
But that truth, he said, was difficult to accept.
“When you get an addiction, it changes you,” he said. “You’re not the same person; you don’t have the same personality; you don’t have the same glimmer in your eye. You’re basically killing yourself. You’re slowly disappearing—it’s one of the most difficult things to watch.”
At 29, his brother is now two years sober. Chiappetta credits his brother’s recovery to the strong support system he had from their family.
“He had the support of me, my mother and my father, who love him very much, which is one of the things that I think addicts need to see,” he explained. “That it’s not only affecting them—you may not care about your life, but the people around you do.
They want to see you grow old. They don’t want to say goodbye to you too soon.”
One of his two friends had been in California for the last two years, separated from his support network, which Chiappetta believes contributed to his decline.
Chiappetta’s two friends and his brother followed a similar path: Initally enticed by pills, they plunged further into the world of addition once they found a more accessible and affordable option: heroin.
Opioid overdose was named the leading cause of death among people under 50 in the U.S. by the New York Times earlier this year. Stories like those of Chiappetta’s friends are echoed by loved ones whose shared experiences, now traded as commonly as playing cards, make up the narrative surrounding the epidemic.
No longer willing to watch from the sidelines of someone else’s addiction, Chiappetta chose to get involved.
At the Aug. 8 Town Board meeting, he was granted permission to use Volunteers Field from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 9 for North Salem’s first “Hoops for Hope” event.
“It’s a great cause. Nick is obviously trying to make a difference,” Supervisor Warren Lucas said.
Lucas said there is unfortunately a need for such events in the area. He recalled a weekend in 2015 when first responders were called to four separate overdoses in North Salem, one of which was fatal.
“It is a problem all over,” he said.
Chiappetta said his two friends loved basketball and he has happy memories of them shooting hoops at Volunteers Field.
“It will be a nice homage to pay to them,” he said.
A real estate agent and landscaper by trade, Chiappetta admitted he has limited experience in tournament organizing.
“I haven’t thrown a fundraiser before in my life,” he said. “It’s gotten a lot of momentum. I thought people would be interested in it, but I didn’t think they would be this interested.”
Friends and strangers alike have offered ideas, their time, donations or words of encouragement, he said.
The event will feature 16 teams of three to compete in a single-elimination tournament format. An entry fee of $60 is required, which also covers the cost of food and refreshments.
A donation table will be set up for those who would like to contribute. He also hopes local businesses will sponsor the event and contribute an amount of money, for each point scored. The first team to reach 11 points wins. Chiappetta said he would like to thank the businesses that sponsor by creating a program featuring their logos and ads. Additionally, he is in the process of setting up a GoFundMe page, a link to which will be accessible via his Facebook page.
He anticipates a turnout of at least 75 people; 48 players and their guests, and at least 10 volunteers to help the event run smoothly.
“If I can get 16 teams and I can get at least one person to show up, it’ll be a success,” he said. “I’ll defintely do it next year.”
Chiappetta can be reached at Chiappetta.firstname.lastname@example.org; his Facebook page, which is under “Nicholas Chiappetta”; or by phone at 914-703-1018.