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Monday, July 22, 2019

Top Stories > Politics

Heroin and opioid education forum talks action

‘What the hell are we going to do about it?'

Jan 10, 2017

By Autumn Schanil - staff writer

By: AUTUMN SCHANIL | DEMOCRAT
Director of Prevention at Catholic Charities Community Services of Orange and Sullivan Counties Martin Colavito addressed the 20 or so people gathered inside the Emerald Green Clubhouse Sunday morning.
ROCK HILL — According to County Coroner Albee Bockman, Sullivan County is currently averaging two overdoses a week.
Take a moment to think about how many people you know and interact with everyday. Now imagine two of them overdosing, every Tuesday or Thursday or Saturday.
Two a week is a large number for a county that, as of 2013, has a population of roughly 77,000 people.
So United Way of Sullivan County, Catholic Charities and the Emerald Green Property Owners Association worked together to host a Neighborhood Heroin/Opiate Abuse Educational Forum Sunday morning at the Emerald Green Clubhouse in Rock Hill to begin a dialogue about the growing epidemic of drug abuse in Sullivan County.
Sheets and pamphlets were provided near the entrance door with prevention facts, checklists of what to look for, symptoms, and programs and services that are available to those with an addiction.

“Being the father of four,” said guest speaker John. J. Green, “I'd really like to see something like this grow.
“And in order to grow, people have to become active and educate themselves on what's really going on.”
Green went on to discuss a new thing happening at colleges called a “skittle party,” which entails kids bringing prescription drugs as an “entry” and dumping them into a large bowl with everyone else's entries. Throughout the night kids are taking handfuls of those same pills to get high.
“I have 30 years in the substance abuse field and about 20 of them in prevention,” said Director of Prevention at Catholic Charities Community Services of Orange and Sullivan Counties and guest speaker Martin Colavito. “We work to hit things before they happen so there isn't an epidemic to deal with.
“And I'll be the first to admit that the epidemic is already here.”
Prescription drug abuse in Sullivan County, on a per-capita basis, is topped by only two other counties in the state, according to Dr. Carlos Holden, who practices emergency and family medicine in Brooklyn as well as at Catskill Regional Medical Center in Harris.
And prescription drug abuse often leads to bigger and more serious drugs that are cheap, like heroin.
“It's a self destructive act and sometimes you have to raise the question of what dark place drives these kids or these people to do these drugs?” said Allan Rich, a community member of Rock Hill whose son has had trouble with prescription drug addiction. “This goes higher up than the teenagers or the adults. These big pharmaceutical companies, the doctors that work for them, they're not in the profit to cure. They're in the profit to treat.
“And forums like this, just talking, are like putting a bandaid on a hemorrhage.”
Shortly after Rich's comment, people in the room really began to speak up, share stories, ask questions and express anger and frustration with the lack of action across communities and the county.
Monticello Mayor Doug Solomon stood up before the crowd of 20 or so individuals to express his view.
“The opioid problem started off as a prescription drug problem and law enforcement wasn't prepared to deal with it,” stated Solomon, who served as former Monticello Police Chief and is current City of Beacon Police Chief. “The penal system is failing us. The thing is, if we don't pay now we'll pay later. Meaning no one wants to pay for treatment or education for addicts while they're in jail or in the system. So what happens? They get out, they do the same things and then they're back in the system and we're paying for them to be there.”
According to Solomon, he feels that the heroin and opioid epidemic is the deadliest in the history of not just the county, but the country.
“So what can we do?” asked Lorraine Lopez Executive Director of Human Rights Commission in Monticello. “It's great to talk about it but what the hell are we going to do about it? Because otherwise we just keep going over and over the same issues. We keep talking but not taking action.
“Take a look around, what's missing?” she asked the crowd. “Our target audience isn't here. The teenagers, the people addicted, they're not here. We need to hear from them, we need to hear what they have to say and know their stories.”
Although she said it was hard for her to admit in front of so many, Lopez shared the story of her son, who is serving time for crimes he committed and for drugs. So Lopez knows first hand the effects drug abuse can have on a person and their family.
The questions started to fly, directed at Solomon, Green and Colavito: where do we start, who can we talk to or call, should we form a committee?
That's when a hand in the front row shot up to ask permission to speak.
“For me, OxyContin is a synthetic heroin. So heroin yes, is a problem, but doctor prescribed oxy is the root,” said Alejandro Rey of Rock Hill. “My son overdosed on OxyContin and died.”
Rey stopped, trying to compose himself before speaking again. Everyone in the room fell completely silent, waiting.
“I didn't educate myself on the signs of addiction. Sometimes I think I should have done more,” said Rey through choked tears. “My son was a good man but he had his demons. The doctor had prescribed him 96 OxyContin pills for pain. Ninety-six oxy pills. It was then that I asked for the doctor. I wanted to know how they thought my son could be in that much pain that he needed to be prescribed 96 oxy pills. They didn't have an answer for me.”
“We have to make sure to get the medical field involved,” Rey later told the Democrat. “They also need to be held accountable for what they do.”
Julian Dawson, Executive Director of United Way of Sullivan County wrapping up the meeting asked everyone to please sign their name and provide their email before they left as his next focus is to form a small committee that can take steps, plan a move, and take action.
Dawson plans to host the next educational forum in Monticello followed by another in Jeffersonville.
“We plan to get this forum to every township in the county,” said Dawson.

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