State, Seneca Nation Officials Talk Heroin

IRVING – It will take a joint effort to affect the heroin and opioid epidemic in Western New York.

As the issue at hand has no boundaries, members of the New York State Senate’s Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction joined the Seneca Nation of Indians’ Drug and Alcohol Abuse Task Force in order to determine what must be done to address the many facets of the increasing heroin and opioid abuse problem.

“There are no barriers at the Nation’s line, at the county line, or the village or town line. Heroin travels and nothing will stop it except the community coming together,” said Jeffrey Gill, tribal councilor of the Cattaraugus Territory.

Barry E. Snyder Sr. SNI President said this issue, which is “tearing at society” and “destroying family and friends,” can no longer be ignored.

“This issue will not run its course and go away,” he said, calling for a serious message about drugs.

State Sen. Catharine Young said heroin and opioid addiction is a complex problem that is killing people and ruining lives everyday.

“That is why we have come together today; to put the pieces of the puzzle together,” she said.

Chair of the state senate’s task force, state Sen. Phil Boyle of Suffolk County, said information gathered from Wednesday’s forum and the 17 before it will go toward legislation expected to be voted on in the next few weeks.

“We cannot afford to wait,” he said.

The panel discussion began with several accounts of experience with heroin and opioid abuse and suggestions for improvements in health treatment and prevention.

Amanda Fero told her addiction story, where she progressed into a heroin addict at the age of 18, but could not find the treatment she needed unless she was arrested. Boyle said he has heard similar stories across the state and the pending legislation addresses the problem.

Avi Israel, president of Save the Michaels of the World, told the story of his son, who died three years ago after repeatedly seeking help.

“No pain can compare to holding your son while he takes his last breaths,” he said.

Israel explained Michael’s addiction began with a doctor’s prescription, which led to his first request: That doctors become more educated about the addictive drugs they prescribe and the amounts given.

“This epidemic started in the medical community. You cannot arrest your way out of this, you cannot treat your way out of this without education and we need to start with the prescribers,” he said.

Many panel contributors agreed with Israel’s point. Dr. Henri Lamothe of Bradford Regional Medical Center suggested physicians be required to take training classes when they renew their medical licenses like they already have to for infectious disease.

Israel also advocated for educating and supporting parents, saying he knew nothing about addiction when his son came to him for help.

Representatives from several organizations requested state support to finance further programs.

Christine Schuyler and Kevin Watkins health department commissioners for Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties respectively noted the heroin issue also extends into increased cases of HIV and Hepititis B as well as increased child welfare issues.

Boyle added that the legislation will also address the issue of insurance companies deciding which addiction services to cover.

Young said all the input from the panel is valuable for making decision and the information provided will make a difference in the pending legislation.