Combating addiction as a community
Experience has taught us this: addiction is not something you want to tackle alone. Group treatment, mutual aid fellowships, like Alcoholics Anonymous, and good-old supportive friends have long proven this principle. In recovery, together is better than alone.
Finding strength in numbers is important for personal recovery. Addressing addiction together is also crucial on a larger, public health scale. More than ever, individuals, community agencies, and government departments across Chautauqua County are responding to addiction in our county together, in collaborative and coordinated ways.
As in communities across the nation, Chautauqua County has been severely afflicted by addiction, including most recently by the opioid crisis. No resident of our county has been unaffected, either directly or indirectly, by this epidemic. The many people in Chautauqua County who work hard to prevent addiction, to treat and support individuals and families affected by addiction, to reduce the consequences of addiction, to arrest and prosecute those who promote addiction, and to create systems of care which replace addiction with personal and social well being are all finding increasing success as their efforts are coordinated with one another. Our united response to addiction in Chautauqua County is making us stronger than the sum of our parts. As a county, together is better than alone.
The county’s Department of Mental Hygiene is leading this collaborative response. Having successfully secured competitive federal funding for this initiative, the department has taken the lead in creating the Chautauqua Substance Abuse Response Partnership. The Partnership brings together agencies and individuals working in the fields of prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction to address strategically the many addiction-related issues faced by our county. The combined insights, expertise, and commitment of these individuals and agencies first created a countywide assessment of strengths and needs and, since last year, has been implementing a coordinated, on-going strategic plan built from that assessment.
In our county, far too many county residents suffer from addiction, and far too many have tragically died as a result. The current pandemic has made the stresses associated with addiction even more challenging.
Nevertheless, our county is also experiencing significant progress. Proven prevention programs will again be presented in our schools and are now even available to families online. Prevention interventions are also being offered in-person to at-risk young people right in pediatricians’ offices. Treatment, including medication-assisted treatment, is more accessible today than ever and that access continues to improve. Recovery peers are reaching out to individuals who have overdosed to offer services and support. Naloxone (Narcan®), a life-saving, opioid overdose reversal medication, is being distributed in greater numbers than ever and has been used hundreds of times in our county to save a life.
Even now, more progress is occurring. Many services are available in Chautauqua County to help individuals and families struggling with addiction, but finding that help during the chaos and stress of addiction can be an overwhelming barrier. To overcome that barrier, the Department of Mental Hygiene has created a dedicated website — CombatAddictionCHQ.com — to provide reliable information about addiction and an easy-to-search database of addiction services available in our region. An information text line will also be launched soon. New models of crisis intervention and of integrating mental health and substance use treatment are being prepared, as are efforts to expand the size and the diversity of our county’s addiction services workforce.
There is much work yet to be done. Progress — not perfection! — is happening. As in personal recovery, coming together to combat addiction in collaborative and coordinated ways is bringing about increasing success. In Chautauqua County, together is better than alone.
Steve Kilburn is the Grant Projects Director at the Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene and oversees the Chautauqua Substance Abuse Response Partnership. He worked for many years as an addictions counselor and is also a pastor.