Esslie-Frenia Law June 2023 Leaderboard

Educators join responders on latest drug crisis panel

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VALATIE–St. John the Baptist Church hosted a Substance Use Disorder Community Forum last Saturday afternoon. Representatives from Twin Counties Recovery Services, the county mental health department, Mobile Crisis Assessment Team (MCAT), a volunteer “angel” with the Chatham Cares 4U (CC4U) program, and Columbia Pathways to Recovery (CPR) were on a panel, along with Ichabod Crane High Assistant Principal Daniel Farley and family physician William Murphy, who has a practice in Chatham.

The theme of the September 23 forum was “to create awareness and de-stigmatize substance use disorder while providing resources for education and treatment options” according the flyer and posters around the church meeting room. At the very beginning of the forum the 35 or so audience members watched a video from the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. The video had interviews with young people who were in recovery telling their stories.

A lot of the panel members talked about accepting addiction as a disease that needs to be treated and understanding that people dealing with addiction can come from all types of families or communities. Ichabod Crane Elementary School teacher Adam Vooris, who moderated the forum, said, “There is no doubt the drug epidemic is in our community.”

Mr. Farley said every administrator at Ichabod Crane has been trained to administer Narcan (naloxone), the drug used to counter act the effects of an opioid overdose. He said they also have the “Too Good for Drugs,” program in the primary school, DARE in the elementary school and several other programs in the middle and high school, as well as health classes that talk about the effects of drug use.

“Why do we have this problem? It’s simple, people are suffering for many reasons,” he said. He said the solution to the issue is also “simple”–students need a “solid foundation.” He said the district “begins our foundation work as early as possible.”

He did say that there was no “silver bullet” to stop this problem and added, “I prefer prevention to treatment any day of the week.” He also said that if students are caught with drugs in school they are suspended but he does reach out the parents and suggests they talk to a drug counselor.

Dan Almasi from the county’s Mental Health Center, stressed that people seeking help for mental health services are offend also dealing with addiction. He pointed out that there is a local satellite clinic in the Valatie Medical Arts Building. He also said the county is working on another satellite clinic for students in the Ichabod Crane high school.

As for the mental health clinic at the school, audience member Teri Conte, who is also a member of CPR, asked about the availability for students with private insurance to use the counseling. Mr. Almasi said that county only accepts Medicaid, Medicare and state healthcare managed by those programs. He said with adults he can refer them to a treatment center that takes their insurance but “there are not as many private practices for kids and they are booked solid.”

“We really need to focus on what we don’t have,” Ms. Conte said about services in the county.

Mr. Almasi said though the county does not take private insurance, “if a family is in need there are mechanisms to help.”

He said that from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. people can walk into the Mental Health offices on 325 Columbia Street in Hudson and get an evaluation. “All you need to do is show up and we’ll help you,” he said.

Mr. Almasi said that the county works a lot with Twin Counties Recovery programs. Twin Counties Executive Director Beth Schuster stressed the importance of seeing addiction as a disease and she pointed out the things that the county doesn’t offer yet for people seeking treatment. She said there is no detoxification center or permanent rehabilitation center. “Those things are very crucial,” she said.

She talked about the CC4U program, started by Chatham Village Police Chief Peter Volkmann, who was at the meeting as well. The program transports people looking for treatment for addiction to a detox or treatment center out of the area. “There is still a huge need for them locally,” she said of these centers.

Ms. Schuster also talked about the importance of community. She said people used to say, “Not in my backyard, not in my community….These are the kinds of things we heard all the time.”

“We need people to understand and people to speak out,” she told the audience.

Lori Antonson, from CPR, asked for a moment of silence acknowledging that there had been an overdose death in Chatham that week. She talked about her group being a countywide effort to get help. CPR runs a help line at 877-HOPE-365 (877-467-3365) 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week, and they meeting monthly on the third Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. She said most of the meetings are in Chatham but they are trying to get around to other places in the county.

Rena Pazienza from MCAT spoke about her organization being there “to fill gaps in services.” She said MCAT is available for help at 518-943-5555, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., 7 days a week. “Our role is pretty broad and diverse,” she said. MCAT will do on-site mental health assessments, referrals to available services and wellness calls, among other things. And she said they work closely CC4U.

When family physician Dr. Murphy spoke, said he does prescribe drugs like Vivitrol, which can block the effects of addictive drugs and helps people deal with addiction. He was asked about doctors over-prescribing heavy pain medications by an audience member. He said that the medical community needs to “recognize their culpability,” in the issue.

Most of the panelists talked about getting the issues out of the shadows and deal with the stigma. “It’s here,” said Dave Pesano, who volunteers with the CC4U program.

The next CPA meeting is Tuesday, October 17 at 6:30 p.m. in the Ichabod Crane High School Library. There is contact information on the CPR website for several programs, columbiapathwaystorecovery.org.

Twin Counties Recovering can be reached at 518 828-4712. And the county Mental Health Center is at 518 828-9446. Their website is columbiacountymhc.com.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com

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