County Representatives Form Action Teams To Address Drug Epidemic

Those skeptical of the county’s efforts to combat and ultimately fix the local drug epidemic will be happy to know that their community leaders are not giving up on the fight.

On Thursday, representatives from law enforcement, health care and other social services convened at Jamestown Community College to essentially convert the broad issues outlined in last month’s community drug forum into tangible, workable strategies.

Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan, who chaired the meeting along with Pat Brinkman, county mental hygiene director, divided the roughly 25 attendees into five subsections, each responsible for developing so-called “action plans” that will address respective areas of concern.

The five subsections are: advocacy, education/prevention, treatment, law enforcement/courts and public relations.

The multi-pronged strategy was met with enthusiasm by the attendees, many of whom believe its “community outreach approach” is the best way possible to increase awareness, generate political leverage and ultimately effect change.

“This is a communitywide issue,” Horrigan said. “It impacts every bit of Chautauqua County and that’s why I’m so passionate about (forming these action teams).”

A notable area discussed was the accessibility of inpatient care, a contentious issue for many addicts who have frequently voiced the travails of admission.

According to Andy O’Brien, director of chemical dependency at WCA Hospital, the problem stems not from a lack of space, but rather the complexities of insurance coverage.

“Some (individuals) don’t have insurance (and are unable to pay for care) … and those with insurance are often forced to jump through hoops before getting admitted,” O’Brien said.

Insurance companies, O’Brien added, will not cover an individual if they deem his or her condition as “not an emergency issue.” This, of course, translates to failing outpatient services first before receiving coverage for inpatient services.

“What we can do is write in support of current legislation in the state that would take the treatment determinations for insurance out of the hands of insurance companies and put it in the hands of qualified health professionals, said Pat Munson, executive director of CASAC. “It’s not a quick fix, but it’s something we can do.”

Other notable areas discussed included the expansion of drug education programs for elementary schools, accessibility to treatment court, more funding for drug prevention programs and better methods to track data and statistics of drug trends.

Attendees are scheduled to reconvene on May 28, from 1-3 p.m., in the Katherine Jackson Carnahan Center at JCC.

“We cannot afford to let this (effort) fizzle,” Horrigan said. “Our primary role is to keep this moving forward.”

The county’s efforts to stymie the drug epidemic are, in many ways, a reflection of a regional and nationwide effort to address heroin and prescription drug addiction.

On Wednesday, a community forum, part of the bipartisan Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addition, took place at Hudson Valley Community College to address the fields of education, law enforcement, mental health and substance abuse, municipal officials and individuals directly affected by opioid abuse.

“The past few years have seen a resurgence of heroin use across New York state,” said Stephen J. Acquario, executive director of NYSAC. “Our counties – from the sheriffs’ departments to our mental health workers, our public health officials, to our jails and probation officers – all need to work together with state officials to come up with the best strategies to curtail this epidemic now, before more innocent lives are lost.”

The Task Force will continue holding a series of forums across the state and, based on public input, develop a series of legislative recommendations.