Sights set on opioid epidemic
MAYVILLE — “The County Executive wants this cycle to come to a stop,” said Tom Tarpley, coordinator of the Countywide Alliance for Enforcement and Rehabilitation (CAER).
The cycle Tarpley referred to is one of death and sickness due to opioid abuse.
In 2016, there were 63 outpatient emergency visits related to opioid overdoses in the county, according to a quarterly report from the New York State Department of Health published in July 2017. County Executive George Borrello called the opioid use in the county an “epidemic” during his first Chautauqua County Community Justice Council meeting.
During the meeting, Borrello announced a new anti-drug task force, CAER, that will tackle drug abuse in Chautauqua County by looking at prevention and education, treatment and law enforcement.
Tarpley, former police lieutenant in Orange County, California, said he has experience with drug suppression while he worked as an undercover narcotics investigator as well as with K-9 units, DARE programs and serving a regional drug narcotics suppression program in California.
The task force is made up of three sub-committees related to prevention and education, treatment and law enforcement.
The prevention and education committee is made up of superintendents from the largest school districts that include Jamestown, Fredonia, Dunkirk, Southwestern, Cassadaga and Erie-2 BOCES; Chautauqua County Department of Health; Chautauqua Alcohol & Substance Abuse Council.
The treatment committee is made up of the Mental Health Association, the Chautauqua County Department of Mental Health, Chautauqua County Department of Health, Chautauqua County Public Defenders Office, Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office, UPMC WCA Hospital, and Dr. Lillian Ney.
While Tarpley has not yet met with the treatment group, he noted that the overdose rate in the county would be higher if not for their services. A priority of CAER is to extend these services throughout the county.
The law enforcement sub-committee is comprised of various law enforcement agencies including the Westfield Police Department, Fredonia Police Department, Dunkirk Police Department, Jamestown Police Department, Lakewood-Busti Police Department, Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office, Ellicott Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office.
Tarpley said the task force will look at what works and what doesn’t work with current policing in the county related to drugs and continue with the most effective plan. The coordinator expressed concern with drug trafficking within the county and drug trafficking from out-of-state.
“That pipeline has got to be cut off,” Tarpley said.
A big concern for Tarpley and the task force is the use and sale of opioids and heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and even marijuana. Tarpley said he is opposed to the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana, citing use among minors as a concern. Each sub-committee will report back to task force. Borrello and Tarpley have thus far only met with representatives from the education and prevention sub-committee. At that meeting, according to Tarpley, superintendents from the county were concerned with drug use among students, which he called a “very eye-opening meeting.”
“I was surprised by the extent of the narcotics issues that exist in the schools,” he said.
The former lieutenant noted that many of the county’s educational leaders inquired about having or having more resource officers and law enforcement present at school campuses.
Tarpley said nearby rural areas are beginning to resemble inner cities as it relates to drug use and poverty.
“Poverty is very much a problem in these communities and these schools,” he said.
The new task force has scheduled meetings in March with the other groups.
Tarpley explained that after meeting with each group, the task force will be looking at the current procedures and services to determine if they are the most effective and if changes are needed. Tarpley reiterated what Borrello said on Wednesday that one of the primary goals of CAER is to streamline communication and services around the county.