"I fight on a daily basis to save my son," she said, adding that he has been in drug rehab six times and is now in jail. "I go nose-to-nose with these drug dealers. . . . And they're coming after your kids."
The St. James woman was speaking to more than 200 people who filled the main room at the Nesconset Nursing Center to listen to civic leaders and government officials discuss how drugs, specifically heroin, have been gaining a foothold in their community.
Authorities say the problem isn't limited to Nesconset.
"There is an epidemic of heroin use on Long Island," said Jerry Roucoulet, acting director of nonprofit Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency.
"This is a problem that is creeping into our communities, and we are concerned," said Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer, adding that his department has set up a special unit to follow up on heroin overdose deaths.
In Suffolk, all heroin overdoses rose from 151 in 2000 to 312 last year. In Nassau, they increased from 68 to 83 in the same period. Arrests for heroin sale and possession rose from 100 in 2002 to about 150 last year, Nassau police said.
In the Nesconset/Lake Ronkonkoma/Ronkonkoma area, drug-related arrests rose nearly 60 percent, from 200 in 2000 to 319 in 2008, according to police statistics.
The recent meeting in Nesconset spurred police to set up a special tips line for the Nesconset/Lake Ronkonkoma area, 631-854-TIPS. Calls will remain anonymous. Five new officers, taken off the highway patrol, also were added to the Fourth Precinct, police said.
The mother told the hushed crowd that drug dealers are working out in the open, selling heroin and other drugs outside fast food establishments, in parks and schoolyards.
Other residents told of neighborhood houses - from Nesconset to Lake Grove to St. James - where they say occupants use mailboxes as drug pickup centers.
Audience members said they were alarmed by the murder last year of 70-year-old Martha Watson, a Nesconset resident police say was killed by an intruder looking for drugs.
"You've got to get your head out of the sand," the mother told the crowd.
Smithtown's park rangers made three arrests for drug possession in town parks last week, and are expanding patrols. "Over the course of the last couple of years, there has been an increase of drug activity," said public safety director John Valentine.
Fred Gorman, president of the Nesconset-Sachem Civic Association, who organized the meeting and initiated the tips line, said he became aware of the heroin problem when his group found used syringes and baggies during a cleanup of the Bavarian Inn parking lot.
"The tip line is an excellent way to get the word to the police," he said. "If we aren't vigilant, we'll lose. Our entire community is at stake."
That concern also was echoed at the meeting by Legis. John Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James).
Another St. James mother, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said her son has been a heroin addict for several years, and so are many of his friends.
She said heroin users can get high for as little as $10.
"It's here. It's hit us. It came to our nice little neighborhood," she said