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.

Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge

Rande Richardson

“Love is at the root of everything…all learning, all relationships…love or the lack of it. A great gift of any adult to a child is to love what you do in front of them. Let them catch the attitude.” –Fred Rogers


American treasure, children’s television icon and everyone’s favorite neighbor, Fred Rogers, is being honored with documentaries and on postage stamps in this year when he would have turned 90 and as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood commemorates its 50th anniversary. Mister Rogers showed us all how a little compassion, kindness and love can make a world of difference in every neighborhood.

    Recently, the Northern New York Community Foundation, in partnership with Stage Notes, announced the results of the first “Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge.” This competition was an invitation for area middle school students to talk about the things they love about their community. They were competing to award a total of $10,000 to area charitable organizations. Whether they realized it or not, they were really exploring, thinking, and reflecting on the importance of love of community, love of the place where they live, and making it better for them and their neighbors.

    What does an ideal community look like through the eyes of our young people? Of the 62 essays submitted from 9 school districts, there were several common themes including love, kindness, joy, caring, connecting, safety, support, helping, togetherness, diversity, belonging, neighbors, beauty, happiness, betterment, belonging, sharing and respect. These young adults also recognized that it takes all different types of organizations to help create and sustain their best vision of their community as they nominated charities that they felt help supported their love of community.

    These young minds demonstrated an awareness that quality of life includes addressing the most basic of needs as well as the enhancement of quality of life. Sackets Harbor Central School student Adelyne Jareo, wrote an essay that won a $1,000 grant for Meals on Wheels of Greater Watertown. “To me, community means living through both good and bad times with people who love and support you,” she said. “Community is about connection and brightening someone’s day and making it better even in the smallest way possible.” I can assure you that if you were able to read every essay submitted, you would be inspired.

    Other organizations receiving grants include: Croghan Free Library, Lewis County Humane Society, Credo Community Center, Jefferson County SPCA, Carthage YMCA, Orchestra of Northern New York, Thousand Islands Emergency Rescue Service, PIVOT, Children’s Home of Jefferson County, Children’s Miracle Network, Croghan Volunteer Fire Department, Historical Association of South Jefferson, Cape Vincent Community Library, Clayton Figure Skating Club, Clayton Youth Commission, Hawn Memorial Library, Relay for Life of Jefferson County, and Thousands Islands Area Habitat for Humanity.

    As generational shifts continue, programs like this not only provide insight into how those who will inherit our communities think, they also are a proactive way to instill concepts of civic engagement and nurture the importance of giving of oneself to maintain a vibrant community. It is easy at times to cast doubt upon our community’s future. Indeed, recent generations relate differently, communicate in new ways and find relevancy in contrast to their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

    I asked my 14-year-old son if he knew who Mister Rogers was. He did not. While the 1970’s me was stunned, I suspect if he watched the first broadcast of Mister Rogers’ neighborhood, the messages delivered would apply even more today. We all must find ways to continue to do all we can to pass along to our community’s children an affirmation of love. Our world needs it now more than ever. Every participant in the inaugural Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge gives us all reason to be hopeful and confident.

                We must not stop there. We must look for all the ways to present positive role models for our children and introducing them to ways to make a difference in expressions that are meaningful to them. We must show them how much we love our community. We must encourage and challenge them to carry the torch forward.  With your help, the Community Foundation will remain vigilant in providing pathways that will make all of our neighborhoods, and the organizations that enhance them, better. Our greatest gift to those who have come before us is to make sure those who come after see our example and love it enough to “catch” the attitude to perpetuate it.

rande richardson is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. He is a lifelong Northern New York resident and former funeral director. Contact him at rande@nnycf.org.

August 2016 Feature Story: FDRHPO

A ‘mission-focused’ agency

Denise Young is the executive director for Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization. The agency, which was formed in 2005 and today employs a staff of 36 full- and part-time people, works to improve the health of the region’s residents through a variety of initiatives. Photo by Amanda Morrison, NNY Business.

Denise Young is the executive director for Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization. The agency, which was formed in 2005 and today employs a staff of 36 full- and part-time people, works to improve the health of the region’s residents through a variety of initiatives. Photo by Amanda Morrison, NNY Business.

FDRHPO works to fill gaps in region’s health care

By Norah Machia, NNY Business

The growth of telemedicine is just one of several goals that the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization continues to accomplish on its mission to improve the health of north country residents. [Read more…]

Watertown agency gets $1.75 to build addiction recovery center

After months of cautious optimism, north country addiction service providers celebrated a victory against the region’s heroin and opioid epidemic on Wednesday. [Read more…]

February 2016: Nonprofits Today

Nonprofits on front lines of heroin war

Bob Gorman

Bob Gorman

In her office at Pivot, Anita Seefried-Brown has created a collage with the faces of bright and promising young adults, all now dead from heroin and other opiate overdoses. One of the photos is of her late son, Herbie. [Read more…]