Fighting Back: The Ways Out

We asked a number of people for their ideas on what should take priority in this fight and were overwhelmed with the response. Thank you to the counselors, doctors, parents and law-enforcement officials who spoke with us over the past few months — and a special thanks to those who shared their personal experiences fighting this demon. Always fighting.

Lena Petersen, of Cold Spring, is a nurse who treats homeless and jailed addicts in New York City.

Most in-patient, traditional drug treatment programs are a fast, sometimes sloppy approach to detox. They provide a relatively controlled environment where addicts can go through withdrawal. But after completing detox, individuals are thrown back into their communities and social networks where their addiction was formed. They are expected to avoid opioids while engaged in the environment that prompted their use.

Lena Petersen (Photo by Anita Peltonen)

A more successful approach is to engage individuals within the context of their home communities but keep them engaged in treatment through controlled “home detox.” This eliminates the requirement that they isolate themselves from their natural environment and networks. This approach destigmatizes treatment and may even prompt others to seek help, as well.

David Poses, 41, has lived in Cold Spring since 2005.

Unless you’ve experienced addiction first-hand, it doesn’t make sense. No junkie wants to be a junkie, but there’s a terrifying chasm between “will” and “way”: a hopelessness. In that regard, addiction is a disease, a terminal one. It is infectious and contagious, and no amount of guilt/shame/blame/denial/prayer will make it go away.

I started using heroin at age 16. I was in pain. Heroin didn’t make me happy, but it sure as hell made me forget how miserable I was. That’s what it does. It kills pain — and so much more.

At 19, I went through the conventional recovery process (rehab, halfway house, support groups). Though I don’t begrudge the potency and potential of any of these programs, none worked for me. I spent the next decade lying to my friends and family, telling them I was clean. Even after long stretches of sobriety, I kept going back because the hole in my heart still needed to be filled.

Whatever pain heroin kills, it saves all that shit up and throws it back at you when you stop using. While I understand how some people might not be sympathetic to a junkie in withdrawal, the agony is no less real. The word craving is often misused to describe what a recovering addict experiences. Craving is what you feel on a hot summer day when you’re in line at Moo Moo’s. With dope, it’s more need than want, like a bodily urge. It’s an emergency, a feeling like you’re going to suffocate if you don’t get dope in your system right now.

If I had to pick one area to prioritize in the opioid crisis, it’d be to treat the problem on an individual level at every stage — from the preventative messages we teach our children, to the recovery options we consider when an addict is ready to get help, to the resources we provide to parents, families and spouses. In this day and age, where every cup of coffee at Starbucks is custom-tailored, it makes sense to have an individualized approach to addiction.

The memorial and recovery wall at the St. Christopher’s Inn treatment center in Garrison. (Photo by Anita Peltonen)

Everyone in my life missed every red flag because there are no universal warning signs. A self-medicating addict like me will behave differently than an “escape artist” user. Because the allure of dope varies from person to person, no template for recovery is going to work for everyone. Many addicts would have a much better chance at recovery if treated as an individual, especially during the most vulnerable time, which is withdrawal and the stages immediately following.

As a country, we’re in a reactive stance. We’re scared and we’re angry and we want solutions, but we don’t know where to start. We’re warming up to the idea that incarcerating addicts doesn’t deal with the underlying problem, but we fear that treating addiction as a disease takes the onus off the user.

Public perception has changed. When I first started using, heroin was considered taboo and a major leap from “gateway” drugs. Oxycontin didn’t exist. As opioid pain pills became more mainstream, casual users came to understand that heroin is to Vicodin as beer is to whisky — that is, branding and potency are the variables.

Unlike alcohol, however, which is legal and regulated, you never know what you’re getting when you buy an illegal drug. You’re never going to buy a can of beer with 4.2 percent alcohol content printed on the label and get grain alcohol. With heroin, there’s no consistency, and no quality assurance. What barely got you high yesterday can kill you today. And you have no way of knowing. That kind of information would be helpful to a curious kid who hears “Just say no” and asks, “But why?”

If we truly want addicts to get well, our laws must reflect that desire and we must make more resources available.

In my experience, Suboxone was a lifesaver. I was lucky. Many addicts are unaware it exists. Many who do know don’t have access to it. A partial opiate antagonist, Suboxone comes in form of a film you place on your tongue. The drug “sits” on your opiate receptors, tricking your brain into believing it has a steady supply of dope. You’re not high, but you’re not needing heroin, either.

Under federal law, Suboxone (buprenorphine) is a Schedule III controlled substance with high abuse potential. But it can’t be abused. (I tried.) Suboxone has a ceiling. It also contains naloxone, which blocks opioids entirely.

The federal government limits the number of doctors who can prescribe Suboxone, and it limits the number of patients they can treat. Because of these restrictions, there is a black market for the drug. We need to eliminate the barriers to access, and addicts would learn first-hand that it won’t get you high.

A tremendous amount of inertia must be overcome for an addict to take the first step toward recovery. In addition to the stigma of addiction, every addict has to contend with feelings of guilt and shame. If someone is making the effort to get clean, a safe, supportive, understanding family is going to yield better results than telling the addict how disappointed you are.

Everything above contributed to my recovery and continues to be vital in my ongoing effort to stay clean. Today, my life is beyond anything I could have imagined when I was on dope. I’m married to the most amazing woman in the world. We have two children whom I love in ways I never knew existed until I became a parent. I have a successful career. I’m happy; fulfilled. Mindful. Grateful. Not the kind of person you’d look at and imagine as a junkie. But I’ve been to hell and back. I’m not saying I’m right and anyone who disagrees with me is wrong. I’m saying this needs to be a conversation, not a template.

Rebecca Darman (Photo by Michael Turton)

Rebecca Darman, 24, of Cold Spring, has lost eight friends to overdoses.

When I was in high school, Percocet was just becoming a thing at parties. I don’t think people realized how addictive it is, how close to heroin it is. It starts out as a fun thing and they get sucked into it.

I just didn’t know what to do about it.

Sometimes tough love is a good thing. You have to be willing to call out your friends. I never thought it was my place. I should have.

Kids often know more about what other kids are doing than the parents, especially at a small school like Haldane. You’re together five days a week. Everybody knows everybody.

It’s important to look after each other. To help them. To have their back. Many of the friends I hung out with in high school died.

Lillian Rosengarten, of Cold Spring, is a licensed clinical social worker. Her son, Phil, died of an overdose in 1996.

I know all too well no family is exempt from addiction and the possibility of overdose and death, no matter how intact, how loving, how open or closed the communication, how angry or dysfunctional, how wealthy or poor. I want to absolve all parents of guilt that they may be responsible for their child’s addiction and/or death.

Phil, my first-born, had a long history of drug addiction that began at age 15. Although able to achieve 10 years of sobriety, he overdosed at age 36. My own parenting had lacked consistence and good communication. I felt helpless at the time to know what to do. Pleading and anger were of no use. Enabling was destructive.

Many years later I learned how open communication between parent and child can nurture a healthy sense of self and a capacity for the child to express themselves with open directness and to say “No” without fear.

It is never too early to begin to talk to your child about how drugs harm and kill. Parents need to be honest, open and talk about their own feelings and emotions. Talk about depression. Mood disorders and depression are a common reason children begin experimenting with drugs. Teach your child it is OK to cry, as well as to express anger and fear. Do not say, “Don’t cry, you are a big boy or girl, boys don’t cry, crybaby,” etc. Don’t shut the child down or punish for self-expression. This humiliates the child, who will lie, hide or shut down emotions as he or she learns to be “compliant” and “good” to please the parent.

Lillian Rosengarten (Photo by Sheila Williams)

Just listening is a powerful tool to cultivate to accept your child’s experience and emotions as they may arise. If discussion is possible (but never pushed) do so without criticism or judgment. When parents can access their own emotions (not as criticism or punishment) this can bring closeness and honesty to the relationship.

The anti-drug message needs to be an ongoing conversation. Share with your child your own drug experience or that of someone close to your family. When there is addiction in the family, a child can feel he or she is at fault for the parent’s erratic moods. To be in a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous is an accomplishment, as is sobriety. What is important is for the child to know the parent is coming from a genuine place.

Stay calm and non-critical. This lets your children know you are on their side and that you love them. Preaching does not work, nor do threats. The parent’s role is to educate and keep communication open. Speak to your child with respect, do not undermine, and listen well. No matter how the communication goes and the lessons to be learned, eventually it is the child who makes his or her decision on whether to use. There is no way to shield your child from the realities of drug use and abuse.

All children need room in the parent-child relationship to learn to express themselves without criticism and to feel safe doing so. In this way children learn to feel good about themselves and hopefully make healthy choices.

Susan Salomone is the co-executive director with her husband, Steve, of Drug Crisis in Our Backyard, a nonprofit based in Mahopac. They co-founded it in 2012 after their son Justin, 29, died of a heroin overdose.

When Justin was 23, we found out from his girlfriend that he had started using prescription pain killers, specifically Percocet. I remember her email telling us that she was breaking up with him because he was making poor life choices and using Perks. I had to call her to find out what that was.

Before he died, we learned many things about addiction. We learned that addicted children lie right to your face, but we don’t acknowledge it because they are our children. We learned that the pusher is not some scraggly old man in a dark alley but more likely your kid’s friend or a classmate. We learned that the junkie you envisioned living on the streets in New York City in a cardboard box was now living in your house.

We learned the pain that goes with being addicted to painkillers, the withdrawal the addict suffers, the anxiety and guilt that our child suffered. We learned that nothing we could do would cure or control Justin.

We also have learned so much in the five years since his death.

We learned that continued attempts at recovery raise the chances of success. Once is not enough and sometimes 10 times is not enough, but the important thing is to keep trying. Remaining hopeful under the most distressing circumstances is difficult but important.

Graffiti spotted recently near the Cold Spring train station. Many people are working to make this message obsolete. (Photo by Michael Turton)

Medication-assisted treatment, along with behavioral therapy, increases the chance of recovery. We cannot make anyone get well. They have to do this on their own, but recovery is possible with the support of family, professional intervention and a solid support network — Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or something similar.

We learned that this is a brain disease and that some researchers believe that even the first use is not voluntary. We learned that 40 percent of the people who abuse substances suffer from a mental-health issue that might include social anxiety, generalized anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, ADHD and bipolar disorder.

We learned that early use of any drug, including alcohol and marijuana, leads to higher rates of addiction. We learned that there is a family disposition for the disease, as there is with diabetes and heart disease. If you have a family member who is addicted, no matter how distant, the chances increase. Educate your children on this important health hazard.

We learned that people suffer in silence because of the stigma associated with addiction and mental illness. People think that they are the only ones when, in reality, two out of three families are suffering with this disease. We learned that Americans consume close to 90 percent of the painkillers manufactured in the world. That 23 million people need treatment and only 10 percent get it. That many insurances will only cover 14 days of treatment; no wonder this is a revolving door with people coming out of treatment and relapsing within hours. With opioids, months and years are needed in learning how to live without the drugs and deal with the cravings.

We have learned that parents and siblings of the addict are also victims of this disease. They watch their brother or sister create chaos in the house and struggle with their anger. If the sibling dies, they feel guilt for not trying harder. They need help, too.

During one of the many sessions we spent with Justin’s addiction psychiatrist, he said as long as there is life, there is hope. I think of that often. When I first heard it, there was no connection for me because deep inside I never believed Justin would die. The pain and anxiety caused by living with the disease clouded my judgment and caused such anger and resentment that I couldn’t see my son’s pain. I only saw the symptoms of the disease: lying, stealing and manipulating.

So now I know the truth. As long as there is life, there is hope. It is important to believe that an addict can die and once he or she is gone there is no going back and trying again.

The priority now is to bring awareness of the dangers and rampant use of opioids. Denial is a huge factor and people need to realize that the earlier an intervention is made, the better the chances of a person not getting into trouble.

The stigma associated with addiction keeps families and those who are struggling from asking for help. We also need to reduce barriers to treatment and increase prevention education in our schools. By bringing awareness of addiction as a disease, and focusing on this issue in our community, we reduce stigma.

David Gerber of St. Christopher’s Inn speaks at a vigil in Cold Spring on Aug. 31 to raise awareness about overdoses. (Photo by Ross Corsair)

David Gerber is the director of counseling and shelter services at St. Christopher’s Inn in Garrison.

We have laws that require people who receive a DWI to, at the very least, get a chemical dependency assessment. We need a common-sense law that says if your use is so severe that you require your life to be saved by a first responder after an overdose, you are required to attend in-patient treatment.

This could reduce the number of people who require emergency services through multiple overdoses, and reduce the number of people who rely on Narcan as a “get-out-of-overdose-free” card. It would provide helpless families with relief and peace of mind knowing that help is available.

The lengths of stay for such treatment should be long enough to ensure that we are not merely detoxing people, but giving them the time to develop coping skills, and giving their brains time to get past biological urges and cravings. The standard 14 days covered by insurance does not adequately address the need.

Our most recent approach has been to detoxify, re-medicate the problem with drugs like methadone and Suboxone and attempt to engage in an out-patient setting. Addiction takes over lives. It requires rehabilitation, not a bandage.

The best approach for many is detox and residential treatment, followed by a halfway house or supportive living in conjunction with out-patient treatment. We’ve been penny-wise and dollar foolish, by limiting and reducing access to care.

Stacey Farley, of Garrison, is a ceramic artist and member of the Highlands Current Inc. board of directors. She first proposed a drug czar at the Sept. 24 meeting of the Philipstown Community Congress.

In our local government we have highways and building departments. We have planning boards, zoning and conservation boards. We have dog control. Doesn’t it make sense to have someone in charge of the important and pervasive issue of drug abuse?

Whether you call the position drug czar, commissioner or director of prevention and treatment, let’s put our best resources behind this problem and create a full-time, paid position. This person would be responsible for focusing full attention on the crisis, supporting existing resources, mobilizing appropriate medical and rehab support, and educating and communicating with families, individuals, schools and the community, with the goal of reducing abuse and addiction.

So long as there is one person struggling with addiction in our community, we need to try harder and make prevention and treatment a priority. Let’s put someone in charge.

A T-shirt in memory of Matt Herring, 24, who died of an overdose on Aug. 25 (Photo by Ross Corsiar)

Beth Greco is the CEO and president of the Walter Hoving Home, a Christian ministry founded in Garrison in 1967 that serves women who have been addicted to drugs.

We must give people hope and instill the belief that addicts can recover. We need to recognize it as a battle for a person’s life — it will take families, communities, schools, businesses, police, churches and other faith-based organizations, medical professionals and government to make a difference. That will mean getting our own agendas out of the way and making the priority to work together, even if we have different viewpoints or methods.

Helen Keller said it best: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” We have to recognize that each individual in need will respond to different types of help. Our team members participate in many coalitions, and I travel the country working with women at our homes in Garrison; Las Vegas; Pasadena, California; and Oxford, New Jersey. I see people working together and it encourages me that we will see progress.

Being from the faith-based community, being freed from addiction myself and working in the field for more than 25 years, I believe that together we can put hope within the reach of every addict.

Larry Burke is the officer-in-charge of the Cold Spring Police Department.

Narcan training has been a priority for us. We only need to train one more officer. Having a small, part-time force with limited resources is frustrating, especially after working in narcotics for 14 years in New York City, where resources seemed unlimited.

We have to talk to the kids. They need to know that we’re not the bad guys, that they can trust us and that we can help them.

We also need to be involved in the broader community.  People have to let us know what’s going on, and they do. I attend Communities That Care meetings. We work with the school resource officer at Haldane. I’ve spoken to the Lions Club and others to help educate parents.

Members of Philipstown Communities That Care gather to discuss strategies to fight the drug abuse crisis. (Photo by Ross Corsair)

The larger community includes law enforcement beyond Cold Spring. All the police forces in the region meet monthly where we share information, including about narcotics.

This is a difficult subject, but when an overdose death occurs the scene should not be cleaned up before police arrive. There are ongoing investigations in Putnam County where evidence gathered at the scene may lead to arresting dealers.

As a community, we have to somehow deal with the pain-pill issue. There is no quick fix. If there were, it would have been done already.

Robert Tendy is the Putnam County district attorney.

The priority is to save lives. This can be done by utilizing every resource available: expanded use of Narcan for overdoses; education from an early age about the risks of drug abuse and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle; teaching parents to be vigilant for signs of drug abuse and to seek help immediately; a change in our society’s views about using prescription drugs for seemingly every problem that arises — even to the point that we have some children regularly taking pills as early as 4 years old. These children can grow up to have no understanding and no fear of the risks of drug use.

It is also important to have compassionate and understanding law enforcement when dealing with victims of drug abuse, who would love to stop using but cannot. Nobody wants to become an addict. We need expanded facilities for treatment — real, long-term treatment.

All of the above are important and must be part of the plan. However, intensive drug-traffic interdiction also is a necessity. Without it, we will never turn the tide. This means de-politicizing the border-security debate. In the realm of “saving lives,” border security is not a left versus right discussion.

Make no mistake, immigrants — documented and undocumented — also suffer from the opioid crisis. Border security is a matter of national security. The U.S. in 2015 alone seized from our southern borders over 1.5 million pounds of illegal drugs, most of it heroin and fentanyl. Much more was not seized and entered our neighborhoods. Unless we can stanch the flow of heroin and fentanyl it will take a very long time to “solve” the opioid crisis.

To that end, we need more state and federal funding to give law enforcement agencies the tools necessary to track points of origin, entry and distribution; we need severe penalties for repeat offenders who sell these drugs. We need to recognize that the opioid crisis is part of a plan of attack by unofficial international corporations — loosely connected cartels that have one goal: keep as many of our citizens as possible devoted to their product.

Marc Molinaro is the Dutchess County Executive.

Addiction needs to be addressed as a mental health issue. Our goal is to divert the individual from ever needing to go to the emergency room or criminal justice system. The Dutchess County Stabilization Center [a 24-hour crisis center that opened in Poughkeepsie in February] is a critical tool to acknowledging that. It’s based on the belief that individuals, if provided with the right response, can find their way to recovery.

Every county in America should have something like this. And long-term beds and long-term care are the responsibility of state and federal governments, along with insurance companies, which should be required to provide assistance.

The opioid crisis is the public health crisis of our lifetime. It affects every income level, every background, every religion, every race, every color, every creed, both genders. There’s isn’t a family that is not affected by addiction, and in particular, opioid and heroin addiction and abuse.

I’m not a physician, a psychiatrist or a psychologist. I observe. This county has never confronted mental illness and drug addiction in a way that it ought to. It has always treated it only as some sort of stigmatized issue or criminality. Drug addiction can lead to criminal behavior, no question, but we need to treat the addiction, and help the person, and I don’t think that we’ve ever gotten to the point where we acknowledge that, institutionally and universally, and that still has to be confronted.

We see enormous amounts of fentanyl coming to New York state and to the Hudson Valley from China, and finding its way into other drugs. That’s a criminal action that needs to be confronted. The Hudson Valley is situated next to a major city, and that proximity makes it easier to move illegal drugs. They get into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, people who are fighting addiction as well as those who want to buy and sell. All of that converges to make our problem — I wouldn’t say unique — but certainly more acute.

Lisa Scicluna speaks at the vigil in Cold Spring on Aug. 31. (Photo by Ross Corsair)

Lisa Scicluna is co-chair of Philipstown Communities That Care. Her brother, Joey Maddaloni, died of an overdose in 2008 at age 22.

We need greater support in our emergency rooms. When someone comes in with an overdose, we need to have a professional there to discuss recovery and treatment options in a non-judgmental way. Would a person at high risk for diabetic complications get released without speaking to someone who can guide them? Someone who has overdosed deserves the same guidance.

In addition, the judicial and prison system needs to better address those with this disease. For many, what landed them in court or prison is a symptom of the disease.

To parents of young children — do not assume this won’t ever affect your family. Educate yourself on prevention. Just as you try to instill healthy physical habits now, like eating vegetables and applying sunblock, encourage positive emotional health. There is never a guarantee, but the more odds you can put in their favor, the better.

For adolescents and young adults, the window between experimentation and addiction has become much smaller due to the potency of the drugs out there. No one ever plans to become an addict. It is a disease that can prance right in once the door has been opened. The risks are great, whether you use regularly or just once.

Addiction is a disease and it needs to be treated as such. It can be managed, no matter your age or circumstance. There is hope. Reach out. There is no need to fight alone.

Terrence Murphy represents eastern Putnam County in the state Senate and was a member of the governor’s Heroin and Opioid Task Force.

Treating heroin and opioid addiction requires getting to the root of the problem, which is the overprescribing of opioids to patients with short-term, acute pain. This is why I sponsored legislation to limit opioid prescriptions from 30-day supplies to 7-day supplies.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill, S8139, into law in 2016 and it has become a national model. In July, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and John McCain of Arizona introduced the idea in Congress as part of their Opioid Addiction Prevention Act.

But there is more to be done.

Families are paying enormous amounts to send loved ones to sober homes. While there have been successes, sober homes in New York state are unregulated, posing a significant financial risk to patients. There are also accounts of people across the state overdosing at these facilities.

There must be accountability and consequences for bad actors. Profiting from those seeking help, and not providing the promised care, cannot be tolerated.

Heidi Snyder is a pharmacist and president and CEO of Drug World Pharmacies, which includes a store in Cold Spring.

I don’t have all the answers on how to address the crisis, but my immediate goal is to get Narcan into 100 homes and businesses in Philipstown, and from there, into every home and business. It should be inside every first aid kit.

We offer Narcan free without a prescription at our pharmacies — the state covers the co-pay up to $40. Anyone can request it. It’s a nasal spray, you spray it in to the person’s nose. I tell people that I want to see them come into get a new one because the one they had expired without being used.

You may think, well, no one in my family is suffering from opioid addiction. But people visit your home, you may have friends or relatives who you don’t know have a problem, you may encounter a stranger who has overdosed. I keep one in my purse and one at home and I don’t have anyone in my life that I know of who is addicted.

People say: “The opioid crisis is a terrible problem, I just don’t know what to do.” This is something you can do as a caring person and a citizen. Every person who is saved from an overdose gets another chance. Who doesn’t deserve one more chance in this world? Maybe it’s the chance they needed to get clean. I ask young people, “Have you ever regretted not having Narcan?” and the answer is sometimes, “Yes, because I wouldn’t have had to wait after calling 911.”

Sean Patrick Maloney represents New York’s 18th District, which includes Philipstown and Beacon, in the U.S. Congress. This commentary first appeared on Sept. 13 in The Hill, a newspaper in Washington, D.C.

You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that our old ideas for combating drug abuse just aren’t working. The heroin and opioid epidemic is a national crisis that affects all of us, and that means all of us need to get in the game. It’s time to start addressing the disease of addiction by promoting new ideas on prevention and treatment instead of just sending people to jail.

Combating this epidemic starts with conversations at home around kitchen tables, in classrooms, and on practice fields. Education is our best tool to help people stay off of drugs. We should each take responsibility for teaching our kids the dangers of heroin and opioid use and be on the lookout for signs that our kids are using drugs.

Schools, libraries and police departments can aid in this effort by providing materials and training for these difficult discussions. It also means keeping an eye on the medications our family members are prescribed and taking unused medications to an approved take-back program. State and local governments can help by expanding drug takeback programs and getting the word out on programs that already exist.

We also need a commitment from industry leaders and doctors. I hear horror stories all the time about high school athletes who become addicted to opioids or heroin after suffering an injury. In fact, nearly 80 percent of Americans using heroin reported misusing prescription opioids first. We need to engage our well-meaning doctors with efforts to curb the opioid epidemic.

That’s why I worked across the aisle last year to include my bill, the Opioid Review Modernization Act, in the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act. The law encourages pharmaceutical companies to use anti-addiction properties in new medications, and it directs the FDA to come up with a curriculum to share with doctors on the dangers of overprescribing.

We can educate all we want, but we can’t win this fight without also cracking down on the people who are pedaling this garbage to our kids. Our national leaders should allocate the funding necessary to crack down on drug dealers. Local leaders in particularly high-traffic areas should apply for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) designation. The HIDTA designation brings additional local, state and federal resources to your area to help crack-down on dealers and provides more help in keeping people off of drugs in the first place. I worked to get my district, the Hudson Valley of New York, a HIDTA designation, and it has been a huge help in stopping drug dealers and preventing people from becoming addicted.

Prevention can’t be the only solution. Many Americans already suffering from addiction simply don’t know how to find help and turn their lives around. We need a strategy that improves access to lifesaving treatment and medications like Narcan. Throwing low-level offenders in jail only perpetuates the cycle of addiction and incarceration instead of treating and preparing people for productive lives in the community.

We should give our law enforcement officers more discretion in dealing with people with addictions. There are pilot programs across the country that allow our police to do that – and they’re working. Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Seattle give police officers the chance to take people with addictions directly to treatment instead of booking them into the criminal justice system.

People who were sent to recovery as part of these programs were almost 60 percent less likely to be rearrested. We should recreate programs like these nationwide and tailor them to local needs. Based on the success of these programs, I introduced the Keeping Communities Safe Through Treatment Act to help expand them. My bill would create grant funding to allow more police departments across the country to try out this new strategy to cut down on repeat offenders.

If this strategy is going to work, our recovery centers have to focus on whole-person rehabilitation that helps people live a healthier life from top to bottom. Studies show that the best recovery programs help people get back on their feet by finding work and housing. If we want people to stop using for good, we need them to have long-term stability and focus – and these programs provide it.

If we want things to get better for our families and communities, we have to throw out our old playbook and come up with new approaches to the heroin and opioid crisis. I look forward to continuing my work on this and hope that our communities will commit to thinking big and working as a team to combat this problem. Addiction is not only a criminal justice challenge – it’s a public health crisis. We need to start treating it that way.

Jim and Melanie Matero (Photo by Michael Turton)

Jim and Melanie Matero, of Garrison, lost their son, Sasha, to an overdose in 2014. They spoke about their experience in Part 1 of this series.

Melanie: People want it to be just about someone making a bad choice and not it being a disease that can affect anybody. It’s much easier to think that if I can teach my children to make good choices I don’t have to worry about it.

Jim: There’s no one big silver bullet that fixes it all. We need many different little things, all working for the same purpose. Then we’ll get results.

Melanie: We need to help people when they’re sick and not just shower them with accolades once they’re gone. And the shame must end.

Jim: Parents need to listen to their sixth sense. If you have the slightest inkling that there is a problem, it is probably 10 times worse than you imagined. And don’t give up. Your loved one is in there somewhere. You just have to get him to come out; get him all the help you possibly can.

Frank Skartados represents Beacon in the New York State Assembly.

My priority as a member of the Assembly is to prevent more deaths. I assume we all would prefer to save the life of a loved one who gets caught up in this nightmare. The research informing my office suggests that many people die because they do not know what they are taking or they are unfamiliar with the risks of consuming particular substances in combination.

Our first line of defense, then, is to provide people with information that can keep them alive. Then we can help them see that they do not need to use these drugs. 

Robert Langley Jr. is the Democratic candidate for Putnam County sheriff.

The opioid crisis is a plague in our community. Addiction is the root cause. The criminal justice system, particularly in Putnam County, needs to be better positioned to proactively deal with addiction. Sheriff Smith’s reactive approach to addiction isn’t keeping our communities safe.

As sheriff, I will establish a drug interdiction program. Patrols will identify who is transporting drugs into our communities and disrupt the supply.

At the same time, I will address the demand for opioids. When a drug-related arrest is made we have a prime opportunity to attend to an individual’s addiction and break the cycle of crime. Putnam has alternative courts in place for felonies, but not for misdemeanor crimes. We are losing the opportunity to help people sooner and reduce crime quicker. We need to expand alternative courts to the misdemeanor level and into town and village courts. These courts are already in place in Westchester and Dutchess counties, and they’re working.

We need to provide treatment programs for incarcerated addicts in our county jail. That’s not happening now. Our communities are endangered when we turn addicted criminals back onto the street. Individuals should be released from our county jail with a support system in place so they can continue to recover and steer clear of crime.

I will work to expand and provide resources to our school-based initiatives across the county. We need to talk honestly, remove the stigma of addiction, and make resources available for kids who are struggling. Young people are more likely to seek help environments where they feel protected and we need to create that safety in our schools and homes.

Patrice Wallace-Moore (Photo by Anita Peltonen)

Patrice Wallace-Moore is CEO of the Arms Acres treatment center in Carmel.

Finding a single priority in dealing with the crisis is not easy. However, limiting the access to opioids available to the general public would be effective. That doesn’t mean people won’t be able to get opioids for pain relief, but the risk of early introduction from unsupervised medicine cabinets would be lessened.

Limiting access, accompanied by continuing education (early intervention, secondary school prevention, videos and advertisements) can help with addressing the prevention and stigmatization surrounding addiction.

Increasing treatment options is great, but it should come after education and prevention efforts have been attempted.

Capt. William McNamara is the spokesman for the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff [Don] Smith believes the crisis demands a multi-pronged response of increased border security, stepped-up anti-drug enforcement, better education and awareness in our schools and communities about how opioid use can lead to addiction, and more accessibility to addiction treatment programs.

From a supply-and-demand perspective, law enforcement actions will help reduce the supply of illegal drugs coming across our borders and being sold on our streets, while education and treatment initiatives will help reduce the demand for drugs

Sue Serino represents the Highlands in the state Senate.

I want to first thank The Highlands Current for its in-depth coverage of this critical issue. Taking the time to understand addiction, to highlight resources, and to connect community members with one another to create a network of hope are some of the most critically important things that we can do to help overcome this epidemic. Awareness is the key to prevention, and it has the power to save lives.

Unfortunately, this epidemic does not come with a quick fix and we cannot take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to combat it effectively. As a member of the state’s Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, I have worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass legislation and provide funding for methods that tackle the issue from various angles by focusing on prevention, treatment, recovery, and support for families impacted by addiction.

This year’s budget added more than $200 million to aggressively combat the crisis and included funding to open new beds for treatment — something that I believe plays a critical role in the recovery process. I was proud to secure funding for the Dutchess County Stabilization Center that will play a key role in connecting individuals and families with critical resources, and I have hosted awareness events and Narcan trainings across our community to empower our neighbors.

Combating this epidemic will take committed partners at every level, and our top priority should be investing in tools and resources that have a proven record of success.

Judge Reitz (Photo by Michael Turton)

Judge James Reitz oversees the Putnam County Drug Treatment Court.

The epidemic is the result of a combination of things. We’re losing fundamental family structure; the ability to have checks and balances on young people. As they grow up, if values aren’t instilled, if they don’t have strong ethics and the ability to say no, that’s where we’re losing a lot of ground. That’s where it starts.

The crisis can be reduced, or even stopped, one family, and one person, at a time. Let’s reacquaint our culture with family. If you bring children into this world you have to be responsible 24-7. Even before they are born, your conduct must mirror good decision-making. Then you have to care for them, educate them about making good decisions. In this culture, leadership from the top down is saying it’s OK to make mistakes but not be held accountable. Yes, you can make mistakes. But you have to be held accountable for them.

Arlene Seymour manages the treatment programs at CoveCare Center in Carmel.

The priority now is for all of us to work together. We can admit the old way has not impacted the problem. We need more connection, and the more problems with addiction and or mental health, the more isolated you become because of the shame and fear. We are changing how we structure treatment. Families and peers are essential players in achieving recovery because that reduces the isolation and increase the connections.

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