The heroin and opioid epidemic lurks in every corner of the Twin Tiers. In our final episode of Addiction Week, 18 News highlights what local treatment centers and law enforcement are doing to lead addicts down the road to recovery.
“Every time you put an illegal substance in your body, you are playing Russian Roulette,” Sr. Program Director at Trinity of Chemung County, Kyle Saxton said.
“It’s everywhere,” Chemung County Sheriff, Chris Moss said. “It has no demographic barriers. I don’t care its black, white, rich, poor, there’s no religious barriers, everybody’s addicted to it and we’re seeing it day after day as we respond to these overdose calls.”
Trinity of Chemung County recorded 20 overdose fatalities in 2016. But, 2017 has been even worse. By April, the County had already seen 16. Despite using Narcan to save overdosing individuals, law enforcement is seeing history repeat itself.
“We are going back to the same addresses two or three times and saving people with Narcan,” Moss said. “Those are the folks that we are not getting through to and those are the folks we need to concentrate on.”
Last year, the Chemung County Sheriff’s Office launched “Operation H.O.P.E.” The operation woks as a multifaceted approach where the Sheriff’s Office helps to educate the public on the issue and connect addicts with treatment centers. In nearly its first year, Operation H.O.P.E. Has helped over 200 inmates towards recovery.
“So, if you are remanded to the correctional facility for any reason, any crime, it doesn’t have to be drug related,” Moss said. “What happens during the booking process is there is a series of questions to ask incarcerated inmates: Have you ever been addicted? Are you currently addicted? Would you like help in reference to your addiction?.”
Once an addict is transferred to a treatment center, like Trinity, there are several methods of treatment available.
“Everything we use here in our group models, or individual models, is all proven by factual information, that this treatment we provide actually shows promising results,” Saxton said.
The first treatment is an abstinence-based program, which weans an addict off of any addictive substance over time. The second, and most popular option, is a medication -based treatment using Buprenorphine or Vivitrol.
“This goes into the receptors where heroin would go,” Saxton said. “So, if the person was to use heroin, it’s not going to release any euphoria in their brain. It actually, for a lot of people they say, reduces cravings substantially because they know that if they use, it’s not going to do anything.”
Lastly, a peer recovery program allows addicts to meet with others, deep into the recovery process, to share stories and mindsets about overcoming their addiction.
Even though these treatment options are proven to work, the issue continues. So, what more can the area do to combat this epidemic? Some believe the answer is constant interaction from the moment an overdose takes place, all the way to recovery.
“The individual is still in a crisis state,” Director of Community Services for Chemung County, Brian Hart said. “If we can get our crisis team, who are all people with clinical expertise, to have a dialogue with them, whether it’s on the scene or later at the emergency room, or even back at their house, the importance of engaging in treatment, that’s a place to start.”
Once they’re enrolled in the proper treatment program, Trinity says it’s important to surround the individual with those undergoing similar circumstances through a “halfway house” or residential program. However, there just aren’t enough rooms to go around.
“This the path they need to go,” Saxton said. “It’s just a longer treatment to really work on some things and try to change the whole dynamic in the brain. It’s a great method but they are not always available and a lot of times they are already full.”
A lack of housing and appropriate staffing to monitor the recovering addicts only opens the doors for repeat behavior.
“We are in some sense walking away,” Hart said. “We’ve given the Narcan, most of which go to the local emergency room, get medically cleared, and then refuse services and are back on the street if you will.”
Despite a lack of housing and overall resources to fight this epidemic, officials believe money isn’t going to solve the problem.
“Could we put enough money behind it? Probably not because money is not going to solve it,” Hart said.
That’s where grass-rooted educational programs like Operation H.O.P.E. look to make a difference in the long-run.
“I think the public awareness, the public education campaign has to be a big part in answering what the actual problem is,” Moss said. “It’s easy for the government to throw money at a problem. But, you know what, you can say ‘Here Sheriff, you can have another Deputy Sheriff just to fight this epidemic.’ But, if you don’t have an outline of exactly what you want to do, like instituting a program like Operation H.O.P.E., I don’t think it’s going to work.”