Community Must Join Drug Abuse Battle

“Jason” is a heroin addict.

He started abusing prescription drugs Vicodin and Oxycontin before moving to heroin, a drug on which he told The Post-Journal he has overdosed three times. He is still using despite three attempts at treatment.

“As we speak, my brain is just circling on how I’m going to get some money today to not be sick,” “Jason” told The Post-Journal in November. “I don’t care about working, I don’t care about school, I don’t care about nothing other than how to get that money.”

Drug abuse does not prejudice. It can, will and has affected people like Jason from all walks of life. People like Jason are the embodiment of a system that is, for many reasons, broken.

Statistics for all of New York state can be difficult to get, but we know heroin arrests in Jamestown have increased from nine in 2011 to 27 in 2013 while officials at the Mental Health Association in Jamestown say heroin has been linked to more deaths in 2013 than any other drug. Police estimate 90 percent of the crime they deal with each day is caused, in some way or form, by addiction.

The words of those on the front lines of the fight against heroin abuse tell us we have to deal with heroin not just with additional law enforcement attention, but by changing the way we treat those battling heroin addiction. Rick Huber, Mental Health Association of Chautauqua County executive director, favors long-term detoxification and rehabilitation programs because heroin addicts are unlikely to recover through outpatient services alone, something Andrew O’Brien, WCA Hospital chemical dependency unit director, told The Post-Journal insurance companies won’t pay for 90-day or six-month rehab programs. It’s a criticism of the system that was echoed in a three-hour state Senate fact-finding forum held in December. Solving that piece of the problem will require help from New York state.

It is time we admit to ourselves our county’s drug problem, which extends far beyond simply heroin use, can’t be solved by our police departments alone. They are part of the solution, as are health care providers and non-profits.

Perhaps we can take heart in the knowledge Chautauqua County isn’t alone. Newspapers throughout the state are filled with reports of rising heroin arrests, overdoses, deaths and lives ruined. State senators held a three-hour fact-finding forum at the state Capitol in December while Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont made national news recently by devoting nearly his entire State of the State address to the state’s growing substance abuse problem, an issue he termed a public health crisis.

Drug abuse is nothing new. That doesn’t mean we should stand by and let drugs like heroin ruin our region’s neighborhoods, hamper its businesses and continue to ravage thousands of people’s lives a year. County Executive Vince Horrigan said recently he plans to host a community forum so he and other county leaders can get a better handle on the problem. A forum is the right idea to get everyone pulling in the same direction.

As “Jason” can tell us, admitting we have an addiction problem is the first step toward sobriety.