Stephanie Marquesano, Harris Project

Sean Adams/WCBS 880

Stories From Main Street: A Mother's Anguish From Son's Loss To Opioid OD Turns To Activism

April 08, 2018 - 4:43 pm

ARDSLEY, N.Y. (WCBS 880) -- A mother who lost her son to an accidental overdose when he was just 19 years old has turned the pain of losing a child into activism.

As WCBS 880’s Sean Adams tells us this week on Main Street, Stephanie Marquesano has learned that treating opioid addiction is not just about the drugs.

Marquesano’s son, Harris Blake Marquesano, died of an opioid overdose in October 2013. Her life’s work now is to make sure that it does not happen to your child.

“Nobody wants to live the tragedy that I’m living, but I feel like I have tools that have helped me be more than just a mom holding my child’s picture and telling a story,” Marquesano said.

Harris’ story, and what led him to addiction, started when he was quite young.

“He was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder when he was 3 years old, ADHD when he in eighth grade, and the first substance that he self-medicated with was marijuana when he was an eighth grade,” Marquesano said. “Then we saw different psychologists and psychiatrists, and he was really in very good shape for about two and a half years.”

But Harris later took prescription pills to cope with the stress of high school, his mother said.

“By the time he was in 12th grade, he went into inpatient rehab for the first time,” Marquesano said. “It was actually the first time we’d ever heard of co-occurring disorders, which is really what our really what our work is all about – and that’s the relationship between mental health and substance misuse use and addiction – and they also that they treated it, and each and every program failed on the mental health piece.”

Harris Project
Sean Adams/WCBS 880

In 2013 after Harris died, Marquesano started the Harris Project to educate people about mental health disorders and addiction, and to let them know they are not alone.

She advocates for integrated treatment.

“They would take away the substances. They would say that they address co-occurring disorders. But if you didn’t give him the one-on-one psychological time; you know, the real coping mechanisms and skills, how would you expect him to sustain recovery?” Marquesano said.

Harris Project
Sean Adams/WCBS 880

The Harris Project now has a presence in each and every high school in Westchester County.

“It’s a different experience because it’s not just, you know: ‘Drugs are bad. Don’t do them.’ It’s, ‘Here’s where you fit into the story, and let’s give you the information you need to make empowered decisions,’” she said.

Marquesano now hopes to spread the program across the state.

“What I hear consistently at every community presentation, the middle school parents and principals want to know when it’s coming down to their schools,” Marquesano said.

For more on the Harris Project, click here.