Treatment clinics are needed here

This is an open letter to Mayor Wilfred Rosas, Dunkirk city council members and fellow residents:

There is an undeniable need for more substance abuse treatment options in the north county. Anyone who’s paying attention knows that opioid addiction, in particular, has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. and is a particular scourge in small towns like ours which lack easy access to an appropriate range of medical therapies.

While it is welcome news that UPMC Chautauqua is adding a 20-bed, in-patient addiction services program at its Jones Memorial Health Center in Jamestown this year, it is unlikely that will be either sufficient or convenient to handle the need for services in and around Dunkirk.

Several people are vocally opposed to bringing a proposed methadone clinic to Dunkirk because it would almost inevitably be located near schools and residential areas. I can only guess this proximity alarms them because they view persons afflicted with substance dependency as dangerous, or possibly criminal, rather than as fellow human beings who deserve compassion and need the community’s help to cope with a debilitating illness.

It shouldn’t be necessary to remind anyone that people suffering from drug or alcohol addiction are all someone’s loved ones and have value. They are our friends, neighbors, relatives, students and co-workers. If no one you know has been affected by substance abuse, you are rare and fortunate indeed.

I know of three families within a block of my home who have been devastated by a member’s drug dependency in the past few years. My neighbors and I watched one friend who had overdosed being taken away by ambulance. She subsequently recovered physically and completed a rehab program, only to be found dead at home within a year. Less than 50 years old, she was a respected businessperson, gifted artist, ardent gardener and animal lover.

A parent in another family on our block lost a responsible job several years ago, which led to losing their car and ultimately their house, through nonpayment of taxes — but not before they’d been living there for months without electricity or heat, halfway into winter. From concerned conversations we had with them, and attempts to help, we know their dire situation has been greatly influenced by the adults’ long-standing battles with chemical addictions.

I’m no Pollyanna and am aware of the kind of criminal activity to which desperate addicts may resort in order to support their habits. In fact, the third affected neighbor of whom I spoke was justifiably angry and frustrated that a non-resident family member repeatedly broke into his home to steal things to sell or trade for drugs. That said, I never had cause to fear these neighbors, but primarily felt concern for their health and well-being, particularly that of any vulnerable resident children or adults.

Whether you realize it or not, these souls are all around us. They already walk among our children on the way to school, chat with us over the fence, sit in our classrooms, work next to us, or interact with us in business transactions. Why should we be so worried about the prospect of them suddenly becoming more visible if they are able to attend a centrally-located treatment center — even if it’s near a school?

Overcoming addiction can be brutally difficult, even with medical intervention. Isn’t the courage to seek help something to encourage and applaud? Won’t our whole community benefit in the long run from increased treatment options?

Mary Rees is a Dunkirk resident.