The Effects of the Opioid Crisis in NNY

Bob Gorman

I have never been addicted to alcohol, drugs or gambling.

    (I have also never been addicted to housekeeping, food preparation or lawn care, but I digress…)

And there you have it: flippancy. It comes easily if you’ve never carried an addiction monkey on your back. You can’t understand what it is like to live every waking moment with an out-of-control desire to find pleasure in something that can kill everything you know: your family relationships, your career and eventually yourself.

    So you can only try to relate to the statistics.

    The cost of the opioid crisis is producing crazy numbers. Last year the U.S. reported 71,568 overdose deaths, around 196 a day. When factoring in the cost of treatment of the addicted and their inability to produce income and pay taxes, the federal Council of Economic Advisers reports that the nation’s economy lost $504 billion in 2015 alone.

    Whether you want the government to spend more money on free tuition or building a border wall, those numbers should be making us all pause together to consider what the United States could be accomplishing today without the scourge of opioids robbing us of so much talent and treasure in the last 10 years.

    In my job at the United Way working with such nonprofits as Credo Community Center and Pivot, I see some of the effects of this crisis, but from a safe vantage point. For instance, last year, I took Ty Stone, then the new president of Jefferson Community College, on a tour of several local nonprofits, including Credo’s recovery house for women with addictions.

    We walked into the room where they hold group discussions and were suddenly looking into the eyes of some 14 women in their 20s. Some were pregnant and all had been exposed to every bad thing that can happen to you when you are addicted to drugs.

    I introduced Dr. Stone and asked her if she would like to say something. And she then said something I could not have anticipated. She said the drug crisis was also personal for her because in 2007 in Dayton, OH., her 19-year-old son, Steven Adrian Smith, while walking home from work, was run over and killed by a car driven by a man under the influence of heroin.

    After she paused for a few moments, she then looked at every woman in the room and said that when they completed their recovery time at Credo, she would welcome them if they chose to attend JCC. They may have thought they were looking at a college president, she noted, but they didn’t know the whole story of how that title came to be. Stone’s education had been interrupted many times over the years, including her recovery period after the death of her son. They should never give up on themselves, she said, and they should know that there are people throughout the community who are always willing to help them at a moment’s notice.

    Nationally, the issue of how to help those in recovery is becoming the topic of magazine articles about parents who have exhausted their savings trying to rescue their adult children who keep relapsing time and time again. There are no easy answers, but the subject of what to do with so many addicted people also allows for the flippant suggestion that nothing needs to be done because the opioid crisis will die out once the addicted die out.

    Doreen Slocum is a good example of why working to find a better answer is necessary.

    She began using drugs while a student at Alexandria Central School and by her mid-20s, she had been arrested twice: Once for selling drugs and once for shoplifting so that she could sell the merchandise to buy drugs. She overdosed once at her parents’ home and was saved by members of the Thousands Islands Rescue Squad who arrived in time to administer Narcan.

    (The number of overdose deaths potentially could be tripled if not for first responders using such drugs that bring the addicted back to life).

    Slocum today works at Credo, helping others who are trying to kill the addiction monkey rather than themselves. She is often asked to speak throughout the area about her wild ride that almost ended in her death. And today she smiles often when considering her moments of beautiful irony, such as when she was volunteering at the United Way’s annual food drive last year and was working side by side with Sheriff Colleen O’Neill. It hadn’t been that many years earlier when Slocum was housed in the jail that O’Neill oversees.

                Like a lot of people, I wish we were spending $504 billion a year on something more tangible, like infrastructure. But then again, maybe we are. People are this nation’s true infrastructure. And hearing stories from people as diverse as Ty Stone and Doreen Slocum remind us that working together in a united way to find an answer to our addiction problem is worth our time and treasure.

Northern New York’s Opioid Crisis: What is the cost as the epidemic continues to grow?

WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES FILE PHOTO
Depending on insurance policies, a person requesting a naloxone or narcan kit at the pharmacy could be provided with one of several options.

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