NYS Attorney General delivers $2.5M in visit
JAMESTOWN — Chautauqua County has received just over $2.5 million to combat, treat and prevent opioid addiction — directly from the hands of New York State Attorney General Letitia James.
On Monday afternoon, James visited UPMC Chautauqua’s residential substance use disorder treatment program at Jones Memorial Health Center. She toured the facility with various elected and UPMC officials, meeting with various staff members and others. James listened as staff and elected officials shared the struggle the area has gone through regarding opioid addiction.
James discussed the journey of recovery with Carriee Clarke, a recovery coach with the Mental Health Association, and Daniel Carson, a UPMC Chautauqua patient care technician. Clarke and Carson work with those who struggle with addiction daily and shared some of what they do with James.
“It’s important that both of you tell your story to politicians like us,” she said. “It’s important that we hear from you so that we can help you in any way that we can — that’s what’s important. I just wanted to listen to you and get your advice and counsel. Let’s just say that there’s are resources — if I present a check to the leaders of this institution as well as to your local elected officials – tell them how to spend it. Now’s your time.”
Carson and Clarke stressed the importance of peer recovery movements, such as the Mental Health Association. Carson said it was important to fund programs that had are “forward-thinking,” which allow people to “succeed or fail in a safe environment.”
“I think it’s a huge thing and it’s a game-changer versus traditional treatment,” Carson said.
Carson and Clarke added that the housing issues in the area also are in need of attention. Carson said that two Oxford houses closed in the area, which represented 24 spaces people could have inhabited.
Afterward, James presented the check for $2.5 million to Mayor Willie Rosas of Dunkirk; Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist; Cecil Miller, UPMC vice president of operations; Jamestown City Council Member Marie Carruba; Elliot Raimondo, Esq. City of Jamestown Corporation Counsel; and Brian Durniok, UPMC Chautauqua president.
James said it is important to listen to the stories of those who have been impacted by addiction, hear their stories and life experiences and to support them without judgment.
“(It is important to) recognize that they got addicted to opioids at no fault of their own,” she said. “Sometimes, someone went in for a toothache and they got addicted to dangerous drugs. We filed the most extensive lawsuit in the nation, we made a promise to families who lost loved ones that we would hold these companies accountable — and that’s what we’re doing.”
James said she negotiated a settlement for $1.5 billion in New York State, which she is traveling across the state to deliver the funds.
“We are going all over the state of New York to counties and municipalities and cities and to provide them with a basically fair part of the proceeds of our settlement, to provide hope and inspiration to all of those families who are in the throes of addiction, and to let them know that government is here to serve– not to be served.”
James said she wanted to make sure those in Chautauqua County and beyond knew they were heard and are looking to do more for those who are struggling with addiction.
“Although we know that no amount of money could ever bring back those who were lost, whatever we can do to prevent this from happening again is what we are doing today,” she said.
Carson said the funding, once it is allocated, will be important for the residential program and for those in recovery at large because it will provide “more resources and awareness outreach in a community that really has some serious issues with substance use.” He said it is important for those seeking recovery and those in addiction to know that “it gets better.”
“I’m four years clean,” he said. “I’m married to a nurse that I actually met here — she’s an ER nurse now. We just found out we’re having a baby. Going from one life to the next, it’s the total polar opposite, but it all works out.”
Sundquist said the funding will be an incredible opportunity for the county to help provide services to combat opioid abuse in the community, as well as provide treatment and education on these issues. He pointed out that UPMC has the only facility that provides inpatient, long-term care in the county.
“As our levels of fentanyl and other drugs rise, we have a need to get people into recovery and into treatment, and this is such an incredible opportunity for the county to help provide those treatment opportunities,” he said. “We’re excited and thrilled to have Tish James join us today in Jamestown and in Chautauqua County to present these funds and support the work that the cities of Jamestown and Dunkirk are doing as well as the county at large.”
Rosas said many services are needed in the community such as treatment, which is why he appreciates the generous funds being delivered by the Attorney General to help provide the services.
“We talked about some of the issues that are not being addressed here in the county like the housing issues,” he said. “Some of the people that come in here to receive services spend time here and when they get out, they’re unemployed. Some of them are homeless. These are things that the funds can be used for to provide a program that not only helps them with housing opportunities, but with employment opportunities as well.”