Forum Calls For Action To Stymie Drug Epidemic

MAYVILLE – Community leaders, medical personnel and law enforcement officials joined families and recovering addicts in a Mayville forum Wednesday to address the local and increasingly rampant drug epidemic.

The daylong forum – which took place at the Chautauqua Suites Hotel & Expo Center-was a self-described “first step” in County Executive Vince Horrigan’s campaign to reverse the trend of skyrocketing drug addiction and relapse.

“The purpose of this forum is to come together as a community and really have an open conversation about this significant problem affecting Chautauqua County,” Horrigan said. “We’re not going to solve this overnight, but what we have to do … is put in place a process to turn the trends.”

The forum’s morning session was devoted to guest speakers like Dr. David Withers, associate medical director at the Marworth Treatment Center in Waverly, Pa., and William Matthews, project coordinator on the Harm Reduction Coalition’s Overdose Prevention Program.

Withers, in a clever demonstration of fruits and vegetables, was able to show the powerful effects of drugs on the brain, particularly how they corrupt the brain’s frontal lobes and consequently one’s ability to exercise judgement.

Matthews, focusing more on treating overdoses, encouraged the audience and local agencies to pick up naloxone or NARCAN kits.

Naloxone, a prescription medication that reverses opioid overdoses when injected, has been known to dramatically reduce fatal overdoses around the country, Matthews said.

In a more poignant moment of the forum, Avi Israel, a retired electrician turned parent advocate, gave a heartfelt testimonial about his 20-year-old son who shot himself while struggling with a debilitating opiate addiction.

“This 20-year-old boy did not have to die,” Israel said, holding back tears. “If we don’t do anything about this (drug epidemic), we can kiss the next generation goodbye.”

Israel lambasted doctors and health care professionals for not understanding addiction properly and overprescribing patients with too many drugs.

“We have a serious lack of education … whether it’s prescribers, the public, caregivers … the community as a whole looks at addiction like leprosy,” Israel said. “It’s up to us to do something about it.”

Indeed, the need for better education, tangible, workable goals and a sense of momentum quickly became the overriding themes for the forum.

Even in the afternoon session, a panel composed of health care professionals and law enforcement officials further expanded on these themes by suggesting that the road to recovery was a labyrinth of health care bureaucracy, and how previous attempts to fix it have ended up nowhere.

Rick Huber, executive director of Jamestown’s Mental Health Association, called out the community for its inadequate treatment services, namely the insufficient amount of time a recovering addict can stay in a sequestered detox environment.

Andy O’Brien, WCA Hospital director of chemical dependency and outpatient mental health services, countered by stating that insurance money is based on patient outcomes. Since long-term treatment facilities have significant drop-out rates, insurance companies are dissuaded from providing coverage, O’Brien said.

So what’s the next step?

“We want action teams in the areas of prevention, education and treatment,” Horrigan said. “We want these teams to come together … get organized and see how can we make progress in each one of these areas. This is going to be ongoing … and what I want to do is make sure we’re addressing this in an open way and then be able to make progress over time.”