Fighting Back: The Opioid Crisis (Part 4)

‘Where there is life, there is hope’

We know there’s an opioid abuse problem. What can be done about it?

That is the question we began with three weeks ago. The crisis is complex, but many smart people are looking for ways out.

This has been a difficult series to assemble. It is built on the pain of those who have witnessed the destruction up close, and of those left behind with questions but few answers. Journalists often must report on people in pain and are not unaffected by it. But we also found plenty of good news, as new medicines arrive and as people and politicians awake to the suffering and money begins to flow.

As Susan Salomone of Drug Crisis in Our Backyard, who lost her son Justin to an overdose in 2012, says: “Where there is life, there is hope.”

Every week and month and year brings progress. On Sept. 25, for example, the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) opened the Onward Recovery Community and Outreach Center in Newburgh, which provides free support and services for addicts in treatment, as well as their families. It was funded for five years with $1.75 million in state funds — your money, well spent. Among other initiatives, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed two pilot recovery high schools for students dealing with substance abuse.

The most effective treatment so far appears to be a combination of behavioral therapy and medical intervention with drugs such as Suboxone, which one study found could at least double a person’s chances of staying clean for 18 months. At the same time, studies have found that only 10 percent of addicts receive specialized treatment, and four in 10 never seek help.

There is a plan. Last year, Cuomo assembled a 23-member Heroin and Opioid Task Force that included Salomone, Patrice Wallace-Moore of Arms Acre in Carmel and state Sen. Terrence Murphy, whose district includes eastern Putnam County. After a series of public hearings, it made 25 recommendations, including mandating addiction training for healthcare professionals; limiting first-time opioid prescriptions for acute pain from a 30-day supply to seven; expanding access to painkillers that are difficult to crush or dissolve; and eliminating the need for a patient to have prior authorization from an insurer for long-term in-patient treatment.

We asked a number of people for their ideas on what should take priority in this fight and were overwhelmed with the responses. 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.

This series has four parts.

In Part 1, reporters Michael Turton and Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong spoke with the parents of young men who struggled with opioid addiction. One died, one survived, but they faced many of the same obstacles in getting treatment. We asked them to share their experiences, hoping it would provide a road map.

Intro // Sasha’s Story // Max’s Story

In Part 2, we examined the role of law enforcement and the courts in battling the epidemic. Turton looked at the work of the Putnam County Drug Court, while Jeff Simms spent time with Beacon and Dutchess County police officers who are at the front lines.

Intro // A Day in Drug Court // “We Can’t Get Our Regular Work Done” // Burlington Chief on Opioids, Crime

In Part 3, we explained treatment options. Brian PJ Cronin profiled the Dutchess County Stabilization Center, an innovative first stop for those in crisis, while Anita Peltonen and Armstrong visited treatment centers at Graymoor in Garrison, Arms Acres in Carmel and CoveCare Center (formerly Putnam Family & Community Services) in Carmel.

Intro // Dutchess County Stablization // Arms Acres // CoveCare // St. Christopher’s Inn // What Does It Cost?

Finally, in Part 4, we shared the thoughts of specialists, counselors, doctors and those struggling with addiction about what they feel should take priority in addressing the problem.

Intro // The Ways Out // Where to Find Help // The Opioid Crisis (Charts) // Voices From Our Community (Video)

We appreciate your feedback about the series and thoughts about how best to address the epidemic. Email [email protected] or post a comment below.

2 thoughts on “Fighting Back: The Opioid Crisis (Part 4)

  1. There’s no mistaking what we have here. This last installment of The Current called “Fighting Back” linked ideas with evidence from Lynn Carano’s data presentation last week and drops it at our front door. Generous parents and friends opened up their deepest loss so other families could learn and be protected — it’s humbling.

    In 2008 our family relocated up north and returned permanently a couple of years ago. During that re-lo we came home for multiple funerals of young friends we knew from school, sports and faith. There are no words to heal a parent’s heartbreak or the anger of young friends. Seeing this from a distance was an out-of-body experience and the words kept playing over and over; “How can this be happening here”? The answer, of course, is that it’s not just here.

    Maybe it’s my old-school showing, but I looked at federal sentencing guidelines. They list heroin and oxycodone trafficking. I didn’t see a category for the opioid fentanyl, or rat poison used to cut for that matter. The Current series gave a comprehensive, local understanding of the problem, direction, leadership, a need for both resources and far better family and early education of drugs integrated through programs wherever kids gather.

    But sentencing for traffickers and dealers in this drug class stands out as the area where serious people need to get resolve. I’m not minimizing its influence, but this is not marijuana. These traffickers are truly pathological; they groom kids and intentionally poison them, wasting youth and their families for money. The only reason they care if someone dies is that they lose a customer. Whether they wear jeans, khakis or business suits or protected by a U.S. or foreign flag; when convicted these traffickers need to be permanently, irretrievably stopped — regardless of who they know or fines paid. Since second place is catastrophic, the only question is what are we willing to do to win.