Prevention, treatment, recovery: Hope & Healing for Chautauqua

County Executive Vince Horrigan

Before the healing starts, there has to be hope that recovery from substance abuse is possible. And as Chautauqua County service providers showed Wednesday at the First United Methodist Church in Dunkirk, how can there not be hope with so much help close to home?

Representatives from the Chautauqua County Office of Mental Hygiene in Dunkirk, TLC Health Network, UPMC Chautauqua WCA, Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy Group, Chautauqua Tapestry, Addiction Response Ministry, HOPE Chautauqua, Evergreen Health and Chautauqua Alcohol & Substance Abuse Council spoke to a sizable crowd as part of the “Combating the Addiction Epidemic: Help is Available in Northern Chautauqua County” program. County Executive Vince Horrigan and Dunkirk Police Chief Dave Ortolano also attended, sharing their own thoughts with those gathered to learn about what they could do to help fight back against the opiate epidemic that is killing indiscriminately and tearing local families apart.

Melanie Witkowski, executive director of CASAC, opened up the event by stressing how dire the problem at hand really is.

“Obviously what we’re dealing with is a huge addiction epidemic,” she said. “I know it’s a heroin epidemic, but it’s my belief that it’s an addiction epidemic, because we have alcohol, we have cocaine, we have methamphetamines and we have opiates and heroin … and we need to figure out what to do about that.”

Horrigan expressed that not being able to stymie the drug problem in Chautauqua County has been the major regret of his years in office.

Dunkirk Police Chief Dave Ortolano

“As the county executive, the (drug problem) is my number-one concern,” he said. “It’s been my number-one frustration, that we have not been able to reverse the trend.”

Horrigan thanked all of the service provider representatives for their dedicated and ongoing efforts, and admitted that they all — “we” all, the whole community — have a lot of work still to do.

“Here in … the last three years, the number of clinics we’ve served has gone up 23 percent in Dunkirk, and 17 percent in Jamestown,” Horrigan stated. “The programs at our hospitals include open-access models, whether it’s (TLC, WCA or Brooks Memorial), if you are an addict, if you have a problem and you go in, they’re going to assess you and get you the treatment that you need. … We’ve got to make sure this message gets out to those (who) are in need.”

The Chautauqua Center added Medicaid-assisted treatment to its services with Suboxone, Horrigan shared, and the Resource Center also has Suboxone treatment available. WCA Hospital has a detox outpatient program and in Jamestown, there’s big news.

“We finally have been approved for a long-term, residential treatment program,” Horrigan announced. “That is huge. We’ve been trying to get this for the entire time I’ve been (in office), and we’re thinking spring of 2018 that it will be open, (if not) earlier.”

Treatment for substance abuse problems has also been expanded in the area’s jails. Addiction counselors and care coordinators have been hired to help inmates address their issues during their incarcerations and then link them to services when they are released to re-join society. Narcan training is also widely available to civilians now, and that training is often free for participants.

Ortolano remarked that he wishes drugs didn’t exist — that no one used them, no one pushed them, no one sold them — but that isn’t reality. Much of his department’s precious time and limited manpower is spent on trying to clean up the streets, arresting dealer after dealer only to have another pop up the next day.

“The easy part of (addressing the drug epidemic) is us going out and getting these pieces of garbage that are selling drugs to our children off the street,” he said. “The hard part is getting the people (who) are addicted the services and the help that they need so they don’t continue to go and buy. Because if we have (fewer) people buying, we won’t have as many people selling, and that is the cycle that needs to be broken.”

Ortolano also stressed how important it is to educate children at a young age about the devastating and long-reaching effects of narcotics, and to drive that point home again and again so that the message sticks. Enforcement alone can’t work, he said. It has to be part of a three-pronged plan of education, enforcement and rehabilitation.

Julie Franco, coordinator of HOPE Chautauqua, explained that prevention must be strategic to be effective, and that the issue won’t be fixed overnight. The “risk factors” researchers have identified must be addressed. They are “social access,” which is the fact that prescription drugs are obtained from friends and family members, and when that access is cut off, addicts turn to heroin; “perceived risk of harm,” that people think prescription drugs are somehow less harmful than street drugs, despite the fact that pain pills are only “prescribed heroin,” and certainly just as dangerous as anything injectable; and “community norms,” that people look to their communities — family, friends, society — to decide what kinds of behaviors are and are not acceptable.

So what do we have to do? Cut off access at home. If you’re done with your prescriptions, don’t keep them and never share them with others. If you have to have them in your home, lock them up. Dispose of unused mediations safely, either at a drug dropbox, a “drug take-back day” or with an at-home deactivation bag (ask your health provider about the “Take it to the Box” campaign). Educate youths and yourself about the dangers and addictive properties of all drugs, both street and prescribed. Work on opening up dialogue and healthy communication with family members so that you can discuss what’s healthy and what’s not, and what’s down-right deadly. There’s no such thing as a “safe” drug.

For more information on education, prevention, treatment, recovery, rehabilitation, and especially for hope, contact these service providers or ask your doctor to connect you with the help you or a loved one may need.