MAYVILLE – Another reported overdose death of a county resident in the town of Ellery on Wednesday, combined with an increased number of emergency calls to deal with overdoses, has once again brought the heroin and opioid epidemic back to the public spotlight.
Fighting the epidemic has actually been an ongoing conversation and focus for elected officials in Chautauqua County since the start of 2014. Next Wednesday, Chautauqua County executive Vince Horrigan will deliver his annual state of the county speech and he’ll likely take some time to update the county on the fight, as well as what further actions will be taken in 2016 to fight drug addiction.
Horrigan was a guest on WRFA’s community matters program at the end of January, and said that if the county is to see a change in the ongoing drug addiction crisis, everyone will need to pitch in.
“I’m going to step forward and do everything in my power, but it takes everybody,” Horrigan said. “It takes families. It takes the addicts themselves. It takes treatment. It takes law enforcement. It takes insurance. It takes everything else. So I think if we’re all on deck and if we’re all working hard, we’ll make a difference.”
Horrigan’s thoughts have been echoed by Jamestown mayor Sam Teresi, who told WRFA in January that fighting illegal drugs will be a major challenge, but it can accomplished through a group effort.
“It has to be led by the county, led by human service agencies, led by religious organizations, and lead by healthcare providers and the city of Jamestown is proud to be part of that coalition – to see what we can get, more in the way of both outpatient and, hopefully someday, an inpatient treatment center built in the community. The city of Jamestown is 100 percent on board,” Teresi said.
Teresi also made note of the ongoing fight in his state of the city report.
“While the strong, collaborative initiatives of area law enforcement agencies have and will continue to produce necessary and impressive results on the ‘supply’ side of the equation, this is a multi-faceted and complex problem that we simply cannot ‘arrest our way out of’,” Teresi said in his report. “As others across the nation have learned, a comprehensive counseling, education and treatment strategy is essential to dealing with the issue.”
Horrigan agrees that in order to fight drug addiction, local communities needs to not only focus on the supply side, but also focus on the demand side. He said during his January interview that can be done by helping those who are currently battling addiction.
“WCA Hospital is in the process of looking to expand their treatment capability. We have NARCAN now, which has proven to be life-saving. We have a criminal justice coordinating council that’s making better strides of how we’re dealing with those that can be released under supervision, probation, and getting treatment,” Horrigan said, adding, “We’re hitting this from about nine different angles.”
Besides the ongoing influx of illegal drugs in the area, the other major challenge is finding the funding needed to adequately provide help for local residents battling addiction. Horrigan said it’s unlikely the county will be able to use much of its own money and instead will be seeking help from both Albany and Washington.
“Realistically, I think it’s state level and I guess I was hoping to hear more from that in the Governor’s 2016 State of the State address – a little bit more on heroin, which I didn’t hear specifically, but I do know that in his budget he does have some funds there,” Horrigan said. “We look to OASIS at the state level and at the federal level, mental health assistance. So I think that’s where the big resources will come, but I don’t see the county [using more of it’s local funding], per se, other than we are going to step up the medical capability of our jail.”
Horrigan has at least one ally at the federal level who agrees more money needs to be available for communities battling the drug epidemic. On Thursday Senator Charles Schumer was in Buffalo to address the issue, saying that more federal funding needs to be given to the region in order to effectively fight the problem and get the illegal drugs off the streets.
FRUSTRATION OVER TREATMENT OPTIONS CONTINUES
Despite Horrigan’s and Teresi’s pledge to make drug addiction a top priority in 2016, not everyone is convinced things are moving forward as quickly as they could be.
Rick Huber is CEO of the Mental Health Association of Chautauqua County – a non-governmental organization that provides peer support to those dealing with drug addiction. He said that addiction continues to be on the rise in the area, based on the number of individuals who come into his office every day at the Gateway Center, 31 Water St. in Jamestown.
Following Wednesday’s overdose death in the town of Ellery, Huber blasted Horrigan and the county for not doing enough to help fight the drug problem.
“The county Mental Hygiene Department and the county executive have introduced nothing to help fix this problem,” Huber said in an email to WRFA on Thursday. “They’ve developed no programs for the drug problem. The county takes credit for the introduction of NARCAN, but it was actually started by my office over a year before the county had it. The truth is we brought it to the county through Evergreen Health Services. We had our staff trained and were training parents of addicts. And then I was told we were was not supposed to be doing it at the time by the Mental Hygiene director [Patricia Brinkman]. That’s just one of the programs they take credit for that they didn’t start.”
Huber adds that the local Release Under Supervision (RUS) program was at first conducted by his office, the Jamestown City Court and the Resource Center prior to the county overseeing the program. He also said the recent syringe exchange program was introduced by Evergreen Health Services and his office, not by the county.
Those who want to learn more about the services provided by the Mental Health Association in Chautauqua County are invited to attend a public information meeting, led by Huber, on Saturday, Feb. 20 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Prendergast Library. The event is sponsored by the Jamestown Pride Society.
Huber is also helping to coordinate a vigil commemorating the one year anniversary of the death of area resident Christin Tibbitts, who died on Feb. 27, 2015 from a heroin overdose. That event will take place next Saturday, Feb. 27 in Dunkirk.