LOWVILLE — In Community Opioid Forums held over the past week, one point came through loud and clear: to diminish and ultimately control the opioid problem and substance addiction as a whole, a well coordinated “united front” formed by everyone from those recovering from addiction, their families, teachers, employers and communities to people involved with rehabilitation, prevention and law enforcement, is needed.
“We have access to experts that look at the issue from scientific, medical perspectives, but we need to get the perspectives of people who are experts on their own communities,” said Pat Fontana, director of population health and forum organizer for Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization.
The 33 people that attended the Lowville meeting on Aug. 20 were divided into three groups to share ideas about what might prevent drug users from getting help, what can be done to give users the support they need and who was missing “at the table” that should have a voice in the discussion, among other topics.
While the majority of people were those working with addiction prevention and treatment on one level or another, at least three people said they are recovering from substance abuse and also working in the addiction treatment field.
Their perspectives and insights were often quite different from the others present.
While most group members said that substance abusers did more and different drugs because they simply wanted to get more high and they needed more to get there, two of those recovering from addiction set the record straight.
“No. It’s ‘I want calm. I want peace. I want to be happy,’” said one attendee in recovery, later adding, “It may all start as a choice but it doesn’t end that way,” in response to another attendee who said a person chooses to become addicted to drugs.
Names of participants were protected to allow for a “safe space” to share their thoughts and experiences.
Ideas about the importance of connecting with “that one person” to reach out for help, the struggle for those recovering from addiction to find new friends and things to do in small rural communities, and the roles of parents and teachers in both prevention and treatment were among those explored by the groups.
“All demographics in the region have been affected by the opioid epidemic: rich, poor, young, old. Participants are largely in agreement that the epidemic has been an equal opportunity destroyer,” Mr. Fontana said after the forum held in Harrisville on Thursday.
Others in attendance at both meetings included family members of those with substance abuse problems, people working for Lewis County General Hospital, local schools, the public health department, various addiction recovery and prevention organizations and agencies, law enforcement and emergency personnel and parents and foster parents concerned about how the situation may impact their children and community.
The Fort Drum regional health group is working to assess the needs of designated rural areas in the north country, including all of St. Lawrence and Lewis counties and the Clayton, Alexandria Bay and Wilna areas of Jefferson County, on behalf of Pivot, the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council of Jefferson County Inc.
Pivot was awarded a $200,000 grant from the state Health Resources and Services Administration to craft a plan to address addiction prevention, treatment and recovery in general with specific attention to opioid addiction within the next year.
To share your experiences or thoughts on the opioid problem in your rural area, contact Mr. Fontana by email at email@example.com or by phone at 315-755-0720.