Story by A.J. Arias
An Opioid Crisis Panel was held on Fri., Mar. 9 at the Albert Wisner Library in Warwick NY. The panel was facilitated by Beverly Braxton, a former Warwick Valley School District teacher. The presentation consisted of a brief history of the issues that have contributed to the current epidemic, and testimony by the members of the 12-person panel, whose backgrounds varied in relation to the issue. Drug overdoses are on track to be the leading cause of death for people under 50 years of age by the end of 2018.
Braxton’s opening remarks began with asking the group in attendance, how many have been affected by opioids, to which a third of the room responded with raised hands. Braxton continued to explain that dealers of opioids tend to target middle to upper middle class communities like Warwick, saying that all a kid needs to obtain heroin is a phone to call a dealer, a car to get to the dealer, and money to buy it.
Issues Contributing to the Opioid Epidemic
Many contributing issues were discussed; a constant issue brought up throughout the panel was insurance coverage for treatment. For many years, treatment for substance abuse disorders relating to opioids (SADROs) was not covered under many insurance plans, putting a high financial burden on families suffering from this issue.
The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 requires insurance groups offering coverage for mental health or substance use disorders to provide benefits comparable to general medical coverage, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) government page. Despite this, deductibles and co-pays for drugs that assist with substance abuse disorders relating to opioids can still be very high for some plans.
Another issue discussed was treatment waiting periods for substance abusers. People who want treatment are often met with waiting periods as long as three to four weeks. Currently it is not “treatment on demand,” said panelist and Warwick resident Ruth A. Bowles, of the Rockland Council on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependence (RCADD.) Part of the reason for the waiting period is that doctors who can prescribe Suboxone, a form of medication-assisted treatment for SADROs, have patient limits of 275. This can be problematic for people in recovery who have difficulty finding a prescriber. It should be noted that there are no patient limits for doctors that prescribe pain relieving medication.
After Braxton’s opening remarks, the panel of twelve all gave their own five-minute testimonies, which comprised the first hour of the discussion. Bowles said that she sits on panels like this one almost every other night. She said an SADRO is like a caffeine dependence, times one million. She stated that she must constantly beg for money from Albany to address this issue and added, “We can’t incarcerate our way out of this.”
The RCADD also offers a support group that educates families on this disorder, and another for parents who have lost children to an SADRO. Braxton added that a similar support group is needed in Warwick.
Representing law enforcement on the panel was Assistant D.A. Anthony Curti, who is also Director of Diversion Programs. Curti stated that David M. Hoovler, Orange County’s District Attorney, has put a three-prong policy in place addressing SADROs. The first prong is education, and includes panels like the one on Fri.; the second is treatment; and the final prong is prosecution, which Curti made clear was a last resort. He reiterated Bowles’s statement that incarceration is not the solution.
Michael Moon, a member of the Warwick Police Department’s narcotics unit, on which he has served since its inception in 2008, also sat on the panel. Moon believes Warwick needs its own multi-prong solution. Moon said the solution should include education, treatment, and psychological assistance. He additionally urged anyone recovering from a substance abuse disorder to surround his or herself with a new environment and with new people. He also emphasized that the narcotics unit office is always open.
Dean Scher, the CEO of Catholic Charities Community Services of Orange & Sullivan Counties (CCCSOS,) spoke about prevention services. He said that addiction is a very complex issue and that, “one in 10 people have a substance abuse disorder.” Scher spoke of the medical effects of heroin and how it affects dopamine production in the brain. The earlier one starts using opioids the more it interferes with dopamine production. This is why, according to Scher, medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse disorders relating to opioids is necessary. He stated that in order to prevent this disease we must teach students how to better identify their feelings. Scher’s associate Martin Colavito, the Director of Prevention/Prevention Services at CCCSOS, added that the best way to prevent the disorder is by the organization of coalitions. He said that coalitions give kids a chance.
Moving Personal Accounts
Panelist Matthew Covell, a person in long-term recovery from an opioid abuse disorder, wanted the group to know that he is not just a recovering addict; he is a person. Covell was in his 30s when he started abusing opioids and is now 11 years in recovery. He told the crowd that, “when you’re on heroin, you’re on fire, but Methadone [a drug used to help people suffering from this substance abuse disorder] puts out that fire.”
Covell later added that treatment is just the tip of the iceberg; the rest is recovery, and prevention is changing the environment that created the iceberg. Covell now serves as co-chair of Friends of Recovery in New York State, a group that works with promoting legislation and resources for this disease.
Susan Miller was the first parent of a former opioid user to speak from the panel. Miller’s daughter developed an opioid abuse disorder at the age of 16. Miller said she had no idea until she found a burnt spoon in the bathroom. Her daughter, like most opioid abusers, started using Oxycodone.
When that got too expensive she switched to using the cheaper alternative, heroin. Miller said her daughter has now been clean for 12 years, but she is still constantly worried. Miller believes education about the disorder should be required at all schools. She also recommended the novels Tweak, by Nick Sheff and Thin Wire, by Christine Lewry, to people looking for knowledge on the issue. She feels that these stories give a more personal perspective of parents and children struggling with this substance abuse disorder.
Laura Franklin, a parent from the Monroe area, wasn’t as lucky as Miller. Franklin spoke of the death of her son from an overdose at the age of 31. Franklin said that her son went to rehab and meetings, but when dealing with a drug user, “you never know.” Franklin wishes to obliterate the stigma surrounding substance abuse disorders. She said that it can be difficult to know whom she can share her story with, to avoid judgment. She said when people judge her parenting regarding the loss of her child she says, “Well, I didn’t teach him that.”
Resources Available in the Community
Several resources for families suffering with this issue were present through several representatives. Sophia Crawford Rousso, an administrator at Bon Secours Community Hospital, spoke about the issues with the development of a Cornerstone Methadone Clinic in Port Jervis, NY. The clinic is the closest to Warwick, offering resources for people suffering with SADROs, including both mental health and medication-assisted treatment. The clinic has been a controversial topic in the Port Jervis area.
AnneMarie VanOrden, a family support navigator from Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Council of Orange County, said that her group holds classes for students from first to 12th grade every Wednesday on this topic. VanOrden spoke about Narcan, a medication used for emergency cases related to opioid abuse: she explained that Narcan cards, when shown at pharmacies like CVS or Walgreens, allow an opioid abuser to obtain the treatment. Covell noted that Narcan isn’t a treatment it’s an intervention to start the process of recovery.
Responses from the Audience
Annie Colonna, the Director of Prevention Services at the Warwick Valley Community Center spoke from the audience. Colonna currently works with a group in Warwick Valley H.S. that meets once a month discussing the issue and is in the process of starting a similar group in the middle school.
Colonna noted that the grant she received to address the issue in our community has not increased since initially granted. She highly encouraged members of the community to “like” the Warwick Valley Coalition Facebook page. The number of likes on the page is one of the ways the coalition receives funding.
Another member of the audience, who did not state his name, asked about a more local alternative for recovering opioid users than the Cornerstone Methadone Clinic in Port Jervis. The attendant expressed that his son had lost his license and can’t drive to Port Jervis for consistent treatment for his substance abuse disorder. Scher said that his group had received a grant to help local communities in Orange County create more facilities but it has yet to be implemented.
An Important Start Community Progress
The event was felt to be beneficial to the community and highly productive. Colonna said that this is just the start of the conversation. On the first Thursday of every month she holds meetings in the community center dealing with this issue. She urged the community, “Let’s keep talking.”
Mayor Michael Newhard thought that the event was timely and well-organized. He praised Braxton for putting the panel together, and added, “This is just the beginning of a community conversation.”
Officer Jason Brasier, of the Warwick Police Department, said this has been the best meeting he has attended on the topic in his 10 years of law-enforcement.
A beneficial service for the community to know include that there is a pill drop at the Warwick Police Station that is open 24 hours a day and seven days a week, with no question for anyone who wishes to dispose of pills in their household.
For anyone who is afraid of contacting law enforcement regarding the issue, the Good Samaritan Law states that unless a Class A felony is committed anyone suffering complications from overdose cannot be arrested. Citizens may anonymously report illegal narcotics activity, or any crime, to the District Attorney’s Crime Tip Line, 291-2106
For additional information on the topic visit: https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/ or ttps://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis.