Monday February 22, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Susie A. Speranzo loved crafts, cooking and making trips to the beach. She loved people, particularly her family and friends, and lending her time to helping them whenever she could.

Before a debilitating occupational accident in the early 1990s, she used to work helping people enrolled in a local detox program.

Shortly after her accident, she ended up being the one in need of help, battling prescription drug and alcohol addiction.

On Dec. 28, 2009, the 50-year-old Speranzo lost the battle amid her other health complication. But from her death, the woman's family wants to give other individuals and families hope, and make others aware of places in the community where they can find help to win the war against addiction.

"There were very supportive people in the community who reached out to her, even if it was just an ear to listen," said her daughter, Jamie Adorno, 26, of Pittsfield.

"We want to raise awareness, celebrate her and give back," said Speranzo's older daughter, Jennifer Heck, 30, also of Pittsfield.

The life of Speranzo (no relation to the local state representative), will be celebrated two months after her death. On Sunday, a daylong family-friendly benefit will be held for the Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and St. Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church of Pittsfield. The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Back Nine Pub and Grill (formerly the GEAA), featuring a pasta dinner, live bands, a disc jockey with dancing and karaoke, silent auction and door prizes.

"What she battled with is a very real thing," Heck said.

She and her sister and their family members all struggled to help Speranzo, who was prone to binging on various forms of alcohol, Percocet and OxyContin. The mother told her family she was in constant pain. But Speranzo was not alone.

According to a national study conducted in 2008 by the Office of Applied Studies through the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 22.2 million, or 8.9 percent of Americans age 12 or older, were classified with substance dependence or abuse in the past year. Of these, 3.1 million were classified with dependence on or abuse of both alcohol and illicit drugs (which includes overuse of prescription drugs); 3.9 million were dependent on or abused illicit drugs but not alcohol, and 15.2 million were dependent on or abused alcohol but not illicit drugs.

Heck said she would like to see more outreach programs addressing these issues, helping people with addictions instead of looking down on them. "Regardless of her past, she is still a human being. She was our mother. We didn't have to agree with her decisions, but she's still our mother," Heck said.

Adorno agreed, "She didn't drink all the time. When she didn't, she was really good. There used to be things at the SIOGA [Sobriety is Our Greatest Asset] club like activities and Christmas parties and things she could get involved in. She liked having something to look forward to.

"If this raises awareness in her friends, in others in denial with their struggles it could help save their life," she added. "It would be something she wanted."