By JEANETTE WOLFBERG
HUDSON – The Columbia Greene Addiction Coalition (CGAC) is working with organizations and other stakeholders to support individuals and communities impacted by substance abuse, CGAC’s Executive Director Hannah Calhoun said in a conversation with The Columbia Paper on December 13. “We’re trying to save lives and build healthy communities,” she said. For individuals, goals include ending stigmatization, as well as getting them services they need. For communities, she said, the first step is finding out what changes they want. Recently the CGAC got a boost from two grants.
The CGAC grew from efforts in recent years to confront substance abuse, especially the opioid crisis, in Columbia and Greene counties. It became a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization in March 2023.
Now the CGAC is a “multi stakeholder community organization” whose mission includes to “raise awareness of the risk of substance abuse,” to “plan and deliver prevention and harm reduction activities,” and to “support treatment and recovery efforts.” It advocates for individuals in treatment and supports organizations, working with stakeholders and community members, Ms. Calhoun said.
For individuals, recently the Columbia County Department of Human Services has been exploring the idea of starting Oxford Houses, where people who have recovered from substance abuse can live in a supportive environment. When asked about Oxford Houses, Ms. Calhoun replied positively. If people leaving a recovery residence can find no affordable housing or if they go back to their old neighborhood, they will run into circumstances that can trigger a relapse. Oxford Houses are “cost-effective” ways to keep people away from such triggers.
Finding out what a community wants actually is hard and takes time, Ms. Calhoun reported. However, the Opioid Community Work Group, which includes Ms. Calhoun, held community conversations around the county last spring, and got feedback. Two points that attendees brought up, Ms. Calhoun said, were that individuals do not know where to go for resources and that communities want help preventing substance abuse before it starts.
Knowing where to go for resources was already recognized as a challenge in 2018, when Matt Murell, chairman of the County Board of Supervisors, kicked off a push to address the opioid crisis.
And the CGAC is continuing the effort to keep abreast of knowing what services are available for individuals and communities. After all, it needs to “address gaps,” while not “duplicating efforts.” The trouble is that the services available, and where and how to access them, “change constantly,” said Ms. Calhoun. Therefore, keeping on top of them requires constant awareness.
Regarding prevention, Ms. Calhoun noted that schools provide prevention education, but needed are studies of how effective it is. A goal is to build evidence-based prevention education.
One tool in place for prevention needs assessment is a survey administered in schools throughout the US to 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. It asks questions like “In the last 30 days, have you used alcohol? Tobacco? Marijuana? Vaping?” “If you use these substances, where do you get them?” and “Where do you use them?”
Schools in Greene County have taken this survey, but so far no school district in Columbia County has agreed to take it, Ms. Calhoun reported.
One recently-awarded grant comes through a Drug Free Communities Program funded by the federal Center for Disease Control and Office for Drug Control Policy. It is $125,000 a year for up to five years. The CGAC is using it, Ms. Calhoun reported, to build its “capacity,” to build awareness of it and what it does, and to work with consultants from the Prevention Technology Center, affiliated with Rutgers University.
These consultants, Ms. Calhoun continued, do training in “capacity building” and needs assessment. Capacity building includes developing the organization’s strengths and skills, getting it more known within the community, understanding risk factors for substance abuse, and understanding “how we can work together and address” that abuse. Needs assessment includes determining what services the community needs and where there are gaps in these services.
The other grant is from the New York State’s Office of Addiction Services and Support (OASAS), $200,000 a year for four years. It is for Greene County, because that county has ranked so high in deaths from opioid abuse.
Questions CGAC currently wrestles with include how can it be more visible? What information is lacking? What other events can the community do?
“We’re looking at community patterns,” Ms. Calhoun said.
The CGAC has two employees and a nine-member Board of Directors, Ms. Calhoun said. The employees are Ms. Calhoun of Columbia County and an assistant she just hired from Greene County. She also plans to hire a part-time data analyst. The Board of Directors’ president is Jason Fredenberg, Greene County Director of Community Services, and its vice president is Dan Almasi, Columbia County Director of Community Services.