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County Remains Committed To Fight Addiction

Drug overdose deaths in America have continued at record levels. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate a 5.4% increase in deaths in New York State during the 12-month period ending January 2023 compared to the previous 12-month period. Several other states saw double-digit percent increases.

Chautauqua County’s experience has reflected national trends. The highest number of overdose deaths on record occurred in 2021 and, while the county did not experience a further increase in 2022 (as many other areas did), the number of deaths has remained far too high. Currently, halfway through 2023, the county is again facing the potential for another record number of overdose deaths.

Determined efforts have been underway for years to counter this growing problem, and those efforts continue to expand. Among other initiatives, Chautauqua County participates in the HEALing Communities Study, a federally funded, multi-state strategy to expand evidence-based practices across health care, behavioral health, justice, and other community-based settings. Columbia University leads this initiative across New York State and works closely with Chautauqua County. We are committed to helping people address their addictions and to reducing opioid overdose deaths.

In the face of the severe and seemingly relentless realities of addiction and overdose, a temptation exists to single out one explanation and declare the solution to be obvious. But simplistic views of the complexity of addiction do not bear up to reality – or even a single conversation with someone struggling with an addiction. If the answers were obvious and easy, we wouldn’t be facing this national crisis. A range of efforts are needed to save lives and reduce the prevalence of addiction. Some of the many local efforts underway are highlighted here:

Naloxone (trade name Narcan) is a life-saving medication which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. A form of first aid, thousands of kits of this medication have been distributed in Chautauqua County and hundreds of doses have been administered to save lives. Naloxone’s use by the public has grown. EMTs responding to an opioid overdose find that naloxone has been administered before their arrival in about 35% of cases. And these instances do not capture the many other overdoses reversed with naloxone for which 911 is never called.

Naloxone offers a person another chance at life. But naloxone is only effective if someone is present to administer it, and it does not reverse the effects of non-opioid drugs. And even a reversed overdose can take a toll on a person’s brain. In the face of an increasingly deadly drug supply, we cannot rely solely on naloxone distribution to reduce overdose deaths. Repeated fentanyl use – whether intentional or inadvertent through another street drug – is likely to end in tragedy eventually. And so addiction treatment is crucial.

Thankfully, multiple options for treating addiction exist in Chautauqua County, including medications approved for opioid and other substance use disorders. Treatment can be accessed through primary care offices, behavioral health clinics, emergency rooms, and even via an Erie County (NY)-based hotline. Locating treatment, and even requesting personalized help to access treatment, can be found at CombatAddictionCHQ.com.

Two other efforts underway, among the many others, bear special notice. Thousands of county residents have a loved one with a substance use disorder. The stresses born by these family members and friends can be crushing. More family services are being introduced, including a 9-week training series on proven approaches for helping family members that is currently being attended by dozens of front-line workers from several agencies in the county.

Finally, prevention remains the best approach for combatting addiction. Healthy families and communities, along with early and evidenced-based education, do not guarantee that addiction will be avoided, but they do significantly raise the likelihood of better outcomes. In Chautauqua County, Prevention Works provides prevention and early intervention services to students and families across our county.

Is addiction a physical, emotional, behavioral, personal, familial, social, spiritual, or legal issue? In general, the answer is likely to be yes. But regardless of its underlying cause, active addiction can be overcome. If you are struggling with an addiction, reach out for help. If you know someone who is struggling, encourage them to reach out for help. An under-told story of the current addiction and overdose crisis is that millions of Americans are currently living in recovery from addiction. (Check out some local stories at the CombatAddictionCHQ Facebook page.) We must see more join their ranks.

Steve Kilburn is grants projector at the Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene.

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