Uptick In Addicts Seeking Treatment

Bad publicity has its rewards.

In the wake of “Operation Horseback,” the year-long investigation that disrupted a massive heroin network in Jamestown, addicts aplenty have swarmed into rehabilitation services.

The reason, according to some health care officials, was to avoid negative press coverage, a fate given to all 47 members of the heroin network last month, complete with their names and – for most of them- a mugshot.

“People are beginning to realize that (drug addiction) not only has health consequences, but it can have consequences for their liberty and freedom,” said Andy O’Brien, director of chemical dependency at WCA Hospital. “We’ve had an influx of people since (the bust) … and according to some of the patients who were recently admitted … they didn’t want to see their names in the paper. This had a big impact on them.”

O’Brien indicated that the majority of these patients were opiate addicts, and while seemingly not linked to the 47 jailed, felt compelled to change course after the heavily covered drug bust.

Pat Brinkman, director of the county’s department of mental hygiene, echoed these observations.

“We have seen both an increase in inquiries and an increase in people seeking treatment,” she said. “Our law enforcement has been wonderful. And hopefully, (if we continue) to educate folks and make information available, (addicts) will start to seek treatment on their own.”

Rick Huber, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Jamestown, said he’s also seen a recent surge in people. However, he added, this influx only places a brighter spotlight on the shortage of adequate long-term treatment options in the local area.

“(Detox and rehab) commodities in our community are either nonexistent as in detox or severely limited as in only one inpatient rehab facility … and that’s only for 28 days,” Huber said. “I know agencies in Erie County say they can be accessed, but it’s a long wait. We are still seeing people die from overdoses and the product on the street is as deadly as ever.”

According to Brinkman, the fight against heroin can only be won with a “multi-pronged approach” that stresses public relations and education just as much as law enforcement, treatment and advocacy.

“We’re going to try to work this issue as much as we can and try to move the agenda as fast as we can,” she said. “Our action teams are meeting, and there’s going to be a lot of good initiatives coming out of these meetings.”

These action teams, which are comprised of various members of the community from law enforcement and health care to education and the media, meet monthly to devise anti-heroin strategies in their respective fields.

Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan, who has frequently stressed the importance of communication between individuals and organizations, believes the teams are not only an ideal way to effect change but to mobilize the public.

“My goal is to make a ‘megaphone’ voice that brings people together,” Horrigan said. “I continue to see progress when we come together … and now we’re really starting to build some momentum.”

Earlier this month, community leaders, medical personnel and law enforcement officials joined families and recovering addicts at a community drug forum at Jamestown Community College to discuss addiction and its particular effect on young people.

Such mobilization at the local level is indeed mirrored across the state – and apparently taken seriously.

In June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a major anti-heroin bill that expanded treatment, strengthened enforcement and broadened public awareness campaigns. The legislation also cracks down on illegal drug distribution by targeting doctors and pharmacists who write bogus prescriptions for cash.

“We have been fighting for this for a long time,” Huber said. “(All of these provisions) are really really powerful and if used correctly, will really make an impact.”