JAMESTOWN – Despite the effort by government officials and local community groups, the number of peopled affected by the opioid and heroin epidemic in Chautauqua County continues to be on the rise. That’s according to Rick Huber, who serves as CEO of the Mental Health Association (MHA) in Chautauqua County and who was a recent guest on WRFA’s Community Matters program.
The MHA, located in the rear of the Gateway Center on Water St. in Jamestown, provides peer-to-peer support for individuals battling drug addiction in the area. Huber said that so far in 2016, there’s been more people coming into the MHA compared to 2015 and also previous years when the opioid and heroin epidemic first took hold in the area.
“We’ve already doubled this year what we saw last year and it’s just going to keep increasing,” Huber told WRFA. “My office is downstairs in the facility and there’s always new people going by that I haven’t seen before. There’s a group that I [meet with] every Thursday and I had 20 new people in that group that I hadn’t met, so we’re seeing new people on a daily basis.”
Huber also said that unfortunately, there’s also been an increased number of drug-related deaths in 2016 compared to previous years.
“They’re getting worse. We had 16 deaths in the Jamestown area in March alone, and we get a couple more every week,” Huber said. “We’re seeing more of the family members start to speak out, not only in our community but across the state. We’re seeing obituaries posted that are saying that their child died because of an overdose. That’s good that they’re talking about it. We need to get away from the stigma and get the awareness out there and we’re seeing that happen.”
While Huber indicates that the MHA has seen an increase in visitors and there’s also been an increase in overdoses, he added that more is being done to raise awareness about the problem, and that state and local health officials are working toward improving services to provide better assistance to those battling addiction. On the treatment side, he mentioned the effort by WCA hospital to increase the number of beds for its in-patient rehab program. He said he’s also continuing to push for a residential facility that could provide the long-term help that is sometimes required to battle addiction.
On the public awareness front, he said he’s also pleased with the effort by a number of groups in the area. That includes the Hope Chautauqua Coalition – which is coordinating the Hope & Healing for Chautauqua Week – taking place from June 11 until June 17 at several different areas throughout the county.
More information on the Hope & Healing week can be found on Facebook at the Hope Chautauqua Page. WRFA also recently featured an interview with organizers of the event during our May 19 edition of Community Matters.
Anyone interested in learning more about MHA or seeking help can call (716) 661-9044 or visit mhachautauqua.org.