Ulster County Ramps Up Initiatives to End Opioid Addiction

By Nicole Zanchelli

It seems like every day there is news about an opiate-related death. We may turn the channel or turn off our TVs completely, but the painful reality stands. We are still in the crux of the American opioid crisis.  

In 2016, there were 54 opioid overdose deaths in Ulster County alone. In 2017, there were 43 opioid overdose deaths within Ulster County. 

To battle against this substance use disorder, and its deadly consequences, there is the New Paltz Opiate Prevention Team. Their mission is to “offer help and hope to those navigating through the rough waters caused by opioid use disorders and addiction,” according to a brochure. 

Within this prevention team lies a new partnership between the New Paltz Police Department and trained volunteers from Catholic Charities. 

“Anyone can walk off the street [to the police station] and be like ‘I’m done, I can’t do this anymore, I need help.’ The call is then sent out to Catholic Charities, they reach out to their person who gets the company car, they come meet at the station and they pick it up from there. Meanwhile, the person is in a safe space and being supported,” explained Phoenix Kawamoto, the community education coordinator for the Office for Wellness. 

Catholic Charities is a dynamic network of agencies, all working to serve the basic needs of the “poor, troubled, frail and oppressed” regardless of religion, according to their website. 

For approximately seven years, the Ulster County community has maintained relationships with many prevention partners who have been working on the issues pertaining to substance use disorder, opiate use disorder and opiate prevention. 

“When Catholic Charities got a grant, reached out to us and let us know about the services that were available, we knew that they would add an important piece to what we were trying to create here,” Kawamoto said. 

The community partners within the Opiate Prevention Team are: Megan Arnold from the Catholic Charities’ Center of Treatment Innovation (COTI) Program, Chief Joseph Snyder from the New Paltz Police Department, Chief Matthew Goodnow from the New Paltz Rescue Squad, Jaclyn Cirello from the NP SAFE (Substance Awareness For Everyone) Coalition at SUNY New Paltz, Kawamoto and Chief Mary Ritayik from the SUNY New Paltz campus police.

“It’s about connecting existing partners in a way to maximize resources,” Kawamoto said. “I use the phrase a lot, it’s ‘all hands on deck,’ now is the time that there are a lot of resources, but in order to really maximize them then we really need to be collaborating and Ulster County has a reputation for that.”

Through the collaboration of these partners, they will work to provide information, sharpen skills, offer support, and improve access and reduce barriers to resources.

Besides connecting with Catholic Charities and serving as a “port in the storm” for anyone who is seeking help, New Paltz Police will hand out information on services and resources at known overdose sites, according to Chief Snyder at the Nov. 13 Town Board meeting.  

The Catholic Charities COTI Program’s peer advocates, clinicians, care managers and prescribers offer outreach along with treatment and recovery services. 

“We understand that addiction is complex and has devastating impacts on communities,” reads the Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York website. “Catholic Charities programs are designed to help individuals and their families through the recovery process.”

There are also services provided by the local rescue squad. The New Paltz Rescue Squad (NPRS) is a New York State Department of Health-approved opioid overdose prevention program. The NPRS works with the NP SAFE Coalition and the Office for Wellness to provide free Narcan trainings and kits. 

Other resources include Step One, an addiction treatment center in Highland, Access Wellness Center, a counseling center in New Paltz for those with addictions, and Greater New Paltz Community Partnership, a local resource and service provider for licensed human service organizations. 

Refuge Recovery, which is open to anyone with any type of addiction is now in New Paltz. They use Buddhist practices like mindfulness to assist in treatment. Meetings take place Tuesday nights in the building behind Family of New Paltz. 

“That window of opportunity when someone wants help can be very small, and so a quick response is key,” Kawamoto said. 

What contributes to opiate addicts not getting the help they need is something that we are all familiar with: shame. 

Addiction is a brain disease, a medical illness, however it often gets treated as a moral failure, which can bring upon a lot of shame. 

This belief that addiction is a form of moral failure has unfortunately made a home for itself within our culture. 

“I think there is a lot of distancing as to the ‘other,’ like ‘those’ people…like it can only happen to someone of a certain socioeconomic class, or certain race or ethnicity,” Kawamoto said. 

Fortunately, the Office for Community Wellness continues to strive for the elimination of shame and stigma faced by those with a substance use disorder, according to a brochure. 

“I think that some people think that there is no hope, and people don’t understand that there are actually a lot of resources,” Kawamoto testified. 

If you or someone you love is suffering from opiate addiction and wants to get help, you may email Kawamoto at pkawamoto@townofnewpaltz.org for consultation about next steps. 

Story originally published by The New Paltz Oracle.

Nicole Zanchelli

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