Cri­sis hit­ting close to home

The Record (Troy, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Joseph Phelan jphe­lan@dig­i­tal­first­

CAP­I­TAL RE­GION, N.Y. » More than half of New York­ers have been per­son­ally af­fected by opi­oid abuse, ac­cord­ing to the first of a four-part poll on the opi­oid epi­demic con­ducted by Siene Col­lege.

Based on the sur­vey, 54 per­cent of New York­ers have been per­son­ally touched by opi­oid abuse, and 24 per­cent of New York­ers per­son­ally know some­one who has died to an opi­oid over­dose. Re­searchers were sur­prised by some of the num­bers, but pub­lic health of­fi­cials and elected of­fi­cials weren’t en­tirely shocked with the re­sults.

“Of­ten we’re asked what find­ing is sur­pris­ing in a poll. That one in four of us knows some­one that this epi­demic has taken and nearly six in 10 of us are cur­rently touched by it is shock­ing,” Siena Col­lege Re­search In­sti­tute Di­rec­tor Don Levy said in a news re­lease. “Touched by opi­oid abuse doesn’t even do jus­tice to the ex­tent. Six­teen per­cent of New York­ers say that they or an im­me­di­ate fam­ily mem­ber has abused opi­oids. One in four have a friend or ex­tended fam­ily mem­ber that has abused opi­oids and fourteen per­cent know some­one through work that has or is strug­gling with opi­oids. And, a quar­ter of us has had a friend or co­worker share with them that one of their fam­ily mem­bers has abused opi­oids.”

Rens­se­laer County Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Health Mary Fran Wachu­nas said the num­bers didn’t sur­prise her. Wachu­nas said she deals with dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases all of the time, but opi­oid abuse con­tin­ues to be prob­lem­atic.

“We try to stop the spread of the dis­ease, ei­ther by vac­ci­na­tion or ed­u­ca­tion, but [opi­oids] hasn’t stopped, so we still are do­ing ed­u­ca­tion and hav­ing events for pub­lic aware­ness,” Wachu­nas said. “It is still hap­pen­ing. It’s go­ing to be a long-term project for us.”

In March 2016, Rens­se­laer County cre­ated a com­mu­nity co-

ali­tion. The e-mail­ing list be­gan with 70 peo­ple, but now more than 700 peo­ple are in­cluded in the con­ver­sa­tion. Ev­ery six weeks, the group meets. Wachu­nas said more than 100 are in­volved at meet­ings.

“It’s still a topic that is near to peo­ple’s hearts,” Wachu­nas said. “They’re com­pas­sion­ate about it.”

In 2016, 33 peo­ple, rang­ing from 22 to 64 died from opi­oid- re­lated deaths in Rens­se­laer County. In 2017, 30 peo­ple died from what ap­peared to be opi­oid-re­lated over­doses, 28 of which are pend­ing tox­i­col­ogy but two have been con­firmed opi­oid re­lated.

“We try ev­ery­thing. There’s not one an­swer to this. It’s just try­ing dif­fer­ent ways of get­ting the

pub­lic aware of it,” Wachu­nas said. “Right now, we’re work­ing with schools.”

Part­ner­ing with the U.S. At­tor­ney’s of­fice, the county since March has vis­ited four high schools to show “Chas­ing the Dragon,” fol­lowed by a panel to give high school stu­dents per­spec­tive on how the opi­oid epi­demic has im­pacted fam­i­lies, law en­force­ment, the DEA and oth­ers.

Cathi Dun­can, Saratoga County’s di­rec­tor of health, agreed with Wachu­nas, say­ing the num­bers didn’t sur­prise her.

“We have been tack­ling this prob­lem here for a few years,” said Dun­can. “I’m glad that they’re giv­ing it more no­tice and bring­ing more at­ten­tion, but this is some­thing that has been on our radar.”

Saratoga County, just like Rens­se­laer County, has a coali­tion to ad­dress the is­sues of opi­oid abuse.

Over the past year, Saratoga County hosted fo­rums in Half­moon and Me­chan­icville. Just last week, the county helped with a fo­rum at Maple Av­enue Mid­dle School in Saratoga Springs. Next week, there’s an open opi­oid com­mu­nity fo­rum sched­uled at South Glens Falls High School.

“We’re try­ing to bring aware­ness to the com­mu­nity but also to of­fer what is out there for help,” Dun­can said.

Dur­ing last week’s fo­rum at Maple Av­enue Mid­dle School, Su­san Hayes-Masa, a Saratoga County coroner, said Saratoga County lost 27 lives to the epi­demic in 2017.

“It’s a na­tion­wide is­sue. We are all af­fected,” Dun­can said. “It’s un­for­tu­nate that ev­ery­one ev­ery­where has been im­pacted by this epi­demic. It is a na­tional pub­lic health con­cern.”

Con­gress­man Paul Tonko and State Sen. Kathy Mar-

chione of fered their thoughts on the re­leased poll.

“The opi­oid epi­demic cuts across ev­ery com­mu­nity and de­mo­graphic. My own home­town of Am­s­ter­dam, a town of some 18,000, had four over­dose deaths and a dozen close calls in a sin­gle month. When I sat down with group of in­di­vid­u­als for our ‘Faces of Ad­dic­tion and Re­cov­ery’ gath­er­ing last year, many of them shared mem­o­ries of friends and fam­ily mem­bers they had lost. I hear the sto­ries of moth­ers and fa­thers, sib­lings, friends and co­work­ers touched by ad­dic­tion, ev­ery sin­gle week,” Tonko said. “Some­times these are up­lift­ing sto­ries of re­cov­ery, of­ten as­sisted by ad­dic­tion treat­ment and sup­port ser­vices avail­able here in our Cap­i­tal Re­gion. But over­dose deaths are still on the rise, and that tells me we’re still not do­ing nearly enough to win

this tragic fight.”

Marchione said she sadly didn’t find the poll sur­pris­ing.

“Heroin and opi­oid abuse and ad­dic­tion are noth­ing short of a pub­lic health epi­demic,” said Marchione. “This epi­demic does not dis­crim­i­nate and af­fects ev­ery com­mu­nity, ev­ery re­gion, ev­ery de­mo­graphic of our state. If any­thing, it is sur­pris­ing that the num­ber is not even higher than 54 per­cent.”

Ad­di­tional num­bers in­cluded in the sur­vey found 80 per­cent of state res­i­dents

agree­ing the United States is in the mid­dle of an opi­oid epi­demic and 83 per­cent think the prob­lem of opi­oid abuse has got­ten worse over the past few years.

The sur­vey is part of a com­mu­nity ef­fort by Pre­scrip­tion for Progress: United Against Opi­oid Ad­dic­tion, a newly formed coali­tion of lead­ers in health­care, me­dia, law en­force­ment, ed­u­ca­tion and busi­ness in New York’s Cap­i­tal Re­gion com­mit­ted to rais­ing aware­ness and tak­ing pos­i­tive steps to ad­dress the cri­sis.

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