OSWEGO, NY – U.S. Congressman John Katko held a heroin summit Thursday evening in Oswego City Hall. Community members had the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the spike in local heroin use with a panel of parents, educators, healthcare providers, law enforcement officials and local advocates.
The meeting was held town hall-style, but the focus was mainly focused on heroin and opioids. However, there were some off-topic questions regarding health care, the EPA and more.
Participants wrote down questions along with their contact information on cards. Members of his staff will use those cards to contact the writers with responses to their questions, the Congressman said.
“I think it was a great, robust discussion. We want to bring awareness to this issue. I’m confident we did that tonight. There are a lot of constructive things that we can do, we talked about some of them tonight,” Katko said after the forum.
Just before he came in to the Council Chambers, a member of his staff texted him and said, “Seven people in Buffalo died of a heroin overdose last night.”
“To me, that just pointed out the urgency of why we have to address this issue,” Katko said. “I think we had a great discussion tonight. We had parents who lost kids (to drugs), we had kids who were addicted (and are now clean), we had service providers, EMTs – it was just a wonderful discussion.”
Oswego County District Attorney Greg Oakes served as the moderator.
“The heroin epidemic has spread across the county, state and the nation,” the district attorney said. “It’s not just a safety issue. It’s a public health issue.”
“The continued rise of heroin use in our community presents a great risk to the future of Central New York,” Katko said. “Spread the word. Go out and spread the word. Awareness is key. The word is getting out and there’s been a lot of action because of it. Raising awareness and then acting on that awareness is going to be critical.”
The mission of the forum is to spread the word about the problem and to open a discussion about possible solutions, he added.
Today’s heroin “isn’t your parents’ drug,” he told the standing-room-only crowd in the Council Chambers of City Hall. “It is far more dangerous – far more deadly.”
Putting users in jail isn’t the answer, he said, adding, “we have to treat them. We have to do a better job of treating them; a much better job.”
Oakes agreed. “I hear from people sometimes that it’s the scumbags who use heroin. It’s not,” he said. “It’s people from decent families, people that are our neighbors that we grew up with.”
He proposed a three-pronged attack: Education, Treatment and Enforcement.
· City of Oswego Assistant Fire Chief John Chawgo
· Jiancheng Huang, Director of Public Health, Oswego County Health Department
· Michael Batstone, Investigator with the Oswego County Drug Task Force
· Monika Taylor, LCSW, CASAC, Director of Chemical Dependency Treatment Services for Crouse Hospital
· Jill Gillman, Senior RN, Oswego Health Emergency Department
· Penny Morley, MS, CAS, Prevention Services Director at Farnham Family Services & Member of the Coalition to Combat Substance Abuse
· A representative from Chemical Dependency Counselor for County of Oswego Council on Alcoholism and Addictions, Inc. (COCOAA)
· Teresa Woolson, President of the VOW Foundation and member of the Coalition to Combat Substance Abuse
· John and Tina Socci, Heroin Epidemic Action League (H.E.A.L.) Cayuga County
“I have never seen anything that comes close to the harmful and terrible effects of opioids and heroin. By far and away it is by far the most lethal drugs on the street today,” Katko said.
A tearful Tina Socci told how she had lost a child to the drug. “Make no mistake, this is a nightmare,” John Socci added. “This isn’t like drug use of the past. It’s everywhere. It’s affordable
Woolson, who also lost a son to the drugs, told how he thought synthetics were legal – “you can buy them over the counter at a store.”
“It could be any one of us,” Oakes said. “Addiction doesn’t care what race you are, if you’re wealthy or not. It shatters everyone.”
There were 22 drug overdose deaths in Oswego County last year, he added.
A couple of former users told how they fought to get clean. The programs are hard and expensive, they said, adding that after care is needed to ensure sobriety is maintained.
“We need to stop the flow of these drugs,” Katko said. “We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our children.”
Other programs that are at the forefront include the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau’s Youth Court, which handles certain juvenile offenders’ cases; the Oswego County Drug Court, a treatment program that’s is offered as an alternative to jail time for some offenders; the Coalition to Combat Adolescent Substance Abuse that was formed to address the high level of adolescent substance abuse concerns in Oswego County; and plans by Farnham Family Services to open a drug treatment clinic later this summer in Oswego County.
For information on the coalition, substance abuse, addiction and/or synthetic drugs, contact Morley, prevention director of Farnham Family Services at (315) 342-4489.
For information on Youth Court, contact Brian Chetney, Youth Bureau director, at 349-3451.
For information on the Oswego County Treatment Courts, contact David Guyer, administrator, at 349-8716.
Congressman John Katko represents the 24th Congressional District, which includes all of Onondaga, Cayuga and Wayne counties and the western portion of Oswego County. For more information, please visit https://katko.house.gov or www.facebook.com/RepJohnKatko.