Last week Evergreen Health hosted two events for International Overdose Awareness Day (Aug. 31), where we asked members of the community to join us in remembrance of those we’ve lost, to learn about what an overdose is and how to prevent it, and to learn about how to combat the opioid epidemic.
What are opioids?
Opioids are medications that relieve pain. They reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and affect those brain areas controlling emotion, which diminishes the effects of a painful stimulus. Medications that fall within this class include hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin), oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet), morphine (e.g., Kadian, Avinza), codeine, and related drugs.
We heard powerful voices during these conversations; Evergreen’s staff told stories of clients that we’ve lost and helped, clients themselves told stories of loss and hope, community members came to recall the vitality of their loved ones before the epidemic took them, and political leaders joined us to listen and discuss the first steps our government is taking to stop this growing epidemic.
Many members of the community came to remember their loved ones and warn against denial; asking the audience to not fall victim to the falsely belief that the epidemic won’t affect you personally. In Erie County alone, the epidemic claims roughly 10 lives a week, stealing potential from our community, clawing back population gains, and leaving dozens of family members in grief at the loss of their mother, father, son, daughter, best friends – the list goes on. The sudden, and fast paced loss of life, prompted Eire County Executive Mark Poloncarz to address the issue:
“We’re averaging about 10 deaths a week of Erie County residents as a result of the opiate epidemic,” Poloncarz said. “I want you to think about this, folks. It took a lot of years for Erie County to start seeing population gain after the drops in the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000. Finally, the population came back.”
Poloncarz went on to announce the creation of an Erie County Opioid Taskforce lead by County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale R. Burstein.
In the Southern Tier, Dr. Berke reminded attendees that finding a workable solution is vital:
“Shutting down a drug dealer makes the one on the next street richer. We must stop the demand. As long as there is a demand there will be someone to supply it.”
The evening included ways to protect yourself and others. Jamestown Police Chief Snellings spoke about The Good Samaritan Law and it’s protection of witnesses, substance users and, in a more limited fashion, protections for those selling:
What if you are accused of selling drugs?
- Calling 911 can be used in your defense when the charge is less than an A2 felony – as long as you don’t have a prior conviction for an A1, A2 or B drug felony sales or attempted sales offense.
- Calling 911 can be a factor in reducing the length of a prison sentence for A1 and A2 felony convictions.
We were also joined by a partner organization, Hope Chautauqua, who use a similar harm reduction approach to care. Julie Franco, from Hope Chautauqua, discussed prevention; “In prevention, there is a role for everyone and everyone has an opportunity to learn and share valuable information.” She also spoke of the need to ensure “Safe use. Safe storage. And safe disposal.,” in reference to syringe use.
At Evergreen, we aim to meet substance users, and health goals of all kinds, with a harm reduction approach to care. What’s harm reduction? In a nutshell, it’s about meeting people where they are, helping them use more safely, less, or quit. Our services are non-judgemental, and we offer support no matter where individuals are on their journey. If you’re a substance user and want to chat, join our syringe exchange program, obtain health care, and more, give us a call at 716.845.0172 or visit us online at http://evergreenhs.org/Services/SubstanceUse.