JAMESTOWN – It was a packed house at the James Prendergast Library Thursday night as nearly 100 people showed up to attend a panel discussion on the heroin epidemic in our community, and specifically its impact on women.
The forum was entitled “Heroin Epidemic: Women’s Voices, Needs and Impact” and was hosted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW Jamestown) and the Mental Health Association in Chautauqua County.
Speakers included several women from the community who’ve dealt with heroin addiction, either on a professional or personal level, and sometimes both.
One of the speakers was Dr. Lillian Ney, who explained how addiction works. Also speaking was area nurse Julie Apperson, who addressed the “stigma of addiction” and shared her personal story as a parent who has a child dealing with drug addiction. Apperson also pointed out the long-term impact addiction has on the criminal justice system in our country.
“I’ve come to firmly believe that incarceration is not the answer, especially for our non-violence offender with substance abuse or co-occurring disorders,” Apperson said. “Sixty-eight percent of incarcerated people in jail meet the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder and the number with co-occurring mental illness is believed to be over 80 percent. There is an astonishing lack of treatment services in correction facilities… recidivism rates are extremely high – an estimated 67 to 76 percent.”
As a result of the high recidivism rates, Apperson said its time communities start offering more clinical support for addicts, rather than taking the “tough love” approach.
Apperson said alternatives to incarceration include better access to treatment, family support, the syringe exchange program, access to narcan, and even providing safe injection facilities – which she said could be used as an access point to provide and offer help and treatment to users who may otherwise not want to seek help.
Also speaking during the forum was social worker Leanna Luka-Conley, area resident and addict-in-recovery Heather Brown, and area resident Lori Keller, who shared her heart-breaking story of losing her daughter to addiction, saying that her daughter passed away one day before she was scheduled for an evaluation.
The keynote speaker for the event was Mental Health Association in Chautauqua County Executive Director Kia Briggs, who shared her personal experience with heroin addiction and recovery. She said one of the biggest challenges an addict faces is access to treatment.
“I was blessed enough to get into ECMC Detox, which is not an easy process. But I will tell you that I had someone tell me that they literally tell me they thought I would be dead three days later,” Briggs said. “They did not believe I was going to survive. I don’t believe that you should have to wait until you look like you’re on death’s door to get into a detox program.”
Briggs also offered information on how to get support for addiction, including stopping by or calling the mental health association, located in the Gateway Center on Water St. in Jamestown, or by calling 661-9044. A complete listing of local addiction support services can also be found by calling the New York State HOPE line at 1-877-8-HOPENY.