PattySinger, @PattiSingerRoc Published 11:52 p.m. ET Jan. 27, 2018 | Updated 5:37 p.m. ET Jan. 28, 2018
(Photo: MAX SCHULTE/@maxrocphoto/staff photographer)
Just about every Thursday since September, Kim Kinton has gone to Gates Town Hall to be with the people she calls family.
She takes food for those who are in their own recovery from opioids and for others who, like her, love a family member caught up in addiction.
“I get hugs,” she said. “I get support.”
Before Gates to Recovery started, the 48-year-old sat at home. “I just cried and felt alone. … Every town should have something like this. It helps.”
Last year, every town in Monroe County had at least one overdose, according to data from law enforcement agencies. About 140 of those were fatal.
With opioid misuse so entrenched in the suburbs, where on a town’s to-do list — run schools, clear snow off roads, collect taxes — is dealing with opioid addiction?
Complete coverage: Science of opioids
“That’s a good question,” said Rick Page, who is starting his seventh year on the Henrietta Town Board. “We have not had any direct contact with anyone in the town thinking this is a town issue. … From our job responsibility and what people expect us to do on a daily basis, and the services they expect us to provide, that has not been brought up.”
Janine Sanger, president of the Webster Health and Education Network, which is a drug-free-community coalition, said town government can be an important partner, but not the only player.
“It can’t be,” said Sanger, also the coordinator of health and wellness for Webster Central Schools. “It’s parents, it’s the school, it’s business, it’s religious.”
A role of local government?
Gates to Recovery ends with a group hug after participants were given instructions in the use of naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioids. (Photo: MAX SCHULTE/@maxrocphoto/staff photographer)
Nothing in Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo’s action plan on opioids specifically addressed the role of town government. The strategy, announced this past week, called for the medical community to review its practices, law enforcement to figure out ways to share data and the county to do more school and community outreach.
Ginny Nacy, who lost a son to addiction and is the driving force behind the community coalition Drug-Free Irondequoit, said a town’s involvement is a commitment to quality of life for residents. “You’re looking at all of the things that are reasons why people would want to continue to live in that town. If you have a town that’s dealing with a crisis such as what we’re dealing with, I think that says a lot about the town.”
The day after the education and advocacy organization Recovery Now NY participated in a forum at the Gates library in August, Gates Police Chief James VanBrederode met with the organizer about the idea of a drop-in center. Two days later, Gates to Recovery opened.
From 5 to 8 on Thursday evenings, the town lets Recovery Now NY use a room in the recreation center that’s part of the town hall complex on Buffalo Road. Recovery Now organizes the programming, which includes information on support for addicts and families, links to treatment and training in how to use the opioid antidote naloxone.
Gates Supervisor Mark Assini, who along with VanBrederode worked to start Gates to Recovery, said he has had some residents ask him why he’s behind the drop-in center.
"It’s to save lives,” he said. “We’re losing lives in our town, we’re losing lives in other towns. … If we can help a family that’s struggling, provide them help, give support, it’s worth it.”
Assini said some residents have chafed at people from outside the town being welcome at the weekly event. Critics have also questioned why there is no charge to Recovery Now NY or for people who attend.
"This is controversial," Assini said. “You have to answer questions, why are we doing this, what’s it costing. … It’s costing lives if we don’t do it. We have the facility. We have the heat, the lights, the space.”
Last year, 21 Gates residents overdosed on an opioid, But not all the drug-related incidents were related to townspeople.
“People drive through Gates,” Assini said. “They crash into poles. They overdose in the middle of our intersections. We can’t just turn a blind eye to the fact they need help …. and say that’s too bad. We have to help them and in doing that, we’re trying to keep as many of you safe as possible.”
He has another, more private reason — he has a sister addicted to heroin.
“The personal pain that my family went through with somebody we love and love to this day made me understand what other families go through,” Assini said. “I don’t want people to go through that in shame. I don’t want people going through that thinking they’re alone. Part of (Gates to Recovery) is just maybe a way to give back to my parents, who right to the very end loved my sister and never gave up on her. Ever. Part of it is a tribute to my sister, who has gone through this hell her whole life. I feel that making a difference in this gives me some sense of relief and it also helps those that are struggling.”
When your neighbor is also an addict
Just about every community in Monroe County had at least one resident who overdosed. Some communities had more than a dozen. Patti Singer
On the third Thursday of the month, Gates to Recovery hosts training in how to use the opioid antidote naloxone.
Lori Keenan and Susan Hine, both of Greece, wanted to learn.
One woman said she believed that some neighbors were addicts, and the other said there had been two overdoses in two days at a convenience store near her house.
“Whatever we can prepare ourselves to do, we should do,” Keenan said.
Hine said the opioid problem needs to be a priority for a community.
“In order to make progress, we need community support,” she said. “Our leaders need to be on the ball. They need to speak out on it.”
She said she knew other people who wanted to get involved in stopping the epidemic but didn’t know where to go. “If we get our leaders' support behind it, I would feel like now we’re doing something about it.”
Both women said that to their knowledge, their town of Greece did not have anything like what they saw in Gates.
Greece Supervisor Bill Reilich said he was not surprised that no one has called him to ask about the town’s responsibilities or actions regarding opioids. He said there’s a limit to what a municipality can do about any particular issue.
“I would think we could talk about a variety of things that people look at different levels of government, different agencies, the school district, that would deal with these situations,” he said. “Not all of it falls back on the town. We can talk about nuclear proliferation. I don’t think they’d call the town of Greece about that. I don’t think they’d view that as a town of Greece problem.”
Greece had 72 residents who overdosed in 2017, according to data compiled by law enforcement agencies in Monroe County. The number of fatal overdoses among residents was not available.
Reilich said Greece police officers recently started carrying the opioid antidote naloxone to help someone they come upon or to protect themselves if they are exposed to the opioid fentanyl at a crime scene.
As for education about drugs, Reilich said the role of the school district is to provide age-appropriate information that deters use.
New generation taught to just say no
Last year, the average age of a person who overdosed in Monroe County was 36, according to law enforcement data. The oldest person was 72. In November and December, there was at least one overdose of a person in their 60s.
Henrietta board member Rick Page said that town is experiencing overdoses among 26- to 36-year-olds.
Yet towns tend to expend their resources on drug education in the schools.
The mission of the long-standing Rush and Henrietta Community Health and Safety Coalition is to promote drug-free development among youth, according to its Facebook page.
“We focused all of our efforts on the preventive part, trying to reach our children as early as possible, trying to provide as much information and support that way,” said Page, who worked in the district and now represents the town on the coalition.
But when heroin and opiate problems affect middle-aged people, there may be less a town can do as far as education. At that point, the person may have a serious medical condition. The town can, however, make itself welcoming to licensed medical and support professionals who are better equipped to handle individual cases.
Like Webster, Fairport has had a long-standing group addressing healthy lifestyle choice. The Fairport school district has teamed up with the mayor, the Perinton supervisor, community groups, parents and students in the Chemical Dependency Advisory Council (CPAC).
“To have something that’s successful, you have to have key leaders,” co-chairwoman Debra Tandoi said. “It gives you a well-rounded group.”
Because CPAC includes a wide swath of the community, its actions and results have a greater reach, Tandoi said.
“In every community, only about 70 percent of taxpayers have kids in school,” she added.
Irondequoit brings stakeholders together
Carol Struble, from Hilton gives Sue Manno of Irondequoit a bracelet with her son's name on it. Struble lost her son to addiction and Manno has a son currently battling addiction. The two connected at Gates to Recovery, a program hosted by the Town of Gates to help addicts and families struggling with the opioid crisis. (Photo: MAX SCHULTE/@maxrocphoto/staff photographer)
Irondequoit Supervisor Dave Seeley said towns normally are associated with providing direct services, such as filling potholes or building playgrounds, but they can't ignore other problems.
Seeley said he's seen what Assini and VanBrederode have done with Gates to Recovery, but such a concept may not fit for every community.
"There's no right answer to any of this," Seeley said. "I think a lot of communities are doing a lot of good things. It's looking at some of those best practices."
A couple of years ago, Seeley got a visit from Ginny Nacy about what the town could do about drugs. Nacy’s son, Patrick, had died of a heroin overdose in May 2015 at age 32.
The result is Drug-Free Irondequoit: Together, which includes officials from both town school districts and Bishop Kearney, businesspeople and families. Seeley and Police Chief Richard Tantalo attend meetings.
Seeley said Irondequoit took a systemic approach by bringing together as many segments of the community as possible.
“In this case, we did feel the town was the best facilitator of this primarily because we could bring all the school systems together. … To the extent there was some limited bully pulpit involved to facilitate that, that made it worthwhile on our end.”
However, Seeley credited Nacy’s energy and devotion in making things happen. He said there was no line item in the town budget for the initiative, but the dollar amount was minimal and mostly related to printing and setting up information tables at town events.
“I think the town is a great place to have as a support for that, but it really has to embrace all different aspects of the community — churches, school districts, families, youth sports," Nacy said. "Businesses are another aspect of that. I think the municipality is a great anchor for a lot of that.
“I think because we have the support of our town, it gives us a little bit more credibility and clout, perhaps with all aspects of our community,” she said.
Gates to Recovery
The drop-in center is open from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays in the recreation wing of Gates Town Hall, 1605 Buffalo Road. Programs include support for people in recovery and their families, and Narcan training. For more information, call Recovery Now at (585) 310-4080.
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