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Forum Shines Light On Heroin Epidemic

US Rep. John Katko responds to an audience member's question Monday night. At right is Oswego County DA Greg Oakes.

US Rep. John Katko responds to an audience member's question Monday night. At right is Oswego County DA Greg Oakes.

OSWEGO, NY – U.S. Congressman John Katko held a heroin summit Monday 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.

US Rep. John Katko responds to an audience member's question Monday night. At right is Oswego County DA Greg Oakes.
US Rep. John Katko responds to an audience member’s question Monday night. At right is Oswego County DA Greg Oakes.

“We want to bring awareness to this issue. I’m confident we did that tonight,” Katko said after the forum. There were some possible solutions presented. There is no magic bullet – but there are a lot of constructive things that we can do, we talked about some of them tonight.”

He thanked the panel for sharing information with the public.

Panelists included Penny Morley, Prevention Services Director at Farnham Family Services, Monika Taylor, Director of Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Services for Crouse Hospital, Steve Webster, the parent of a heroin overdose victim, Michael Batstone, an Investigator with Oswego County Drug Task Force, Ben Halsey, Superintendent of Schools for the Oswego City School District, and Gina Atkins, behavioral health associate administrator with Oswego Health.

Oswego County District Attorney Greg Oakes served as the moderator.

“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 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,” he said.

Oakes also serves as the county’s coroner, and said he has had to respond to too many incidents involving heroin overdoses. One of the more publicized cases involved three young men who overdosed during the 2014 Bridge Street Run (pub crawl at the end of the SUNY Oswego spring semester) in which one of the victims died.

The mission of the forum is to spread the word about the problem and to open a discussion about possible solutions, Katko explained.

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.”

Steve Webster shares how heroin use resulted in his daughter's death.
Steve Webster shares how heroin use resulted in his daughter’s death.

Earlier this year, Rep. Katko held a Listening Session to Initiate a Community Conversation on Heroin.  In Congress, he has cosponsored and advocated for the TREAT Act, bipartisan legislation which would enhance treatment options for individuals addicted to heroin and prescription drugs; including allowing private practitioners to treat more (drug) patients than they are currently allowed to by law.

Webster told how his daughter passed away six days before Christmas 2103 – due to a heroin overdoes.

He said he shares the story in the hope that it will help prevent this tragedy from happening to other families.

It’s not just the “bad kids” that fall prey to heroin, he pointed out. It’s good students, athletes – anybody, he said, adding, “you can never beat it. You can only hope to keep it in remission, but you can never beat it.”

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.

Synthetics and bath salts are on the rise again Morley pointed out.

Penny Morley (right), of Farnham Family Services, talks about the rise of drug use in Oswego County. Looking on are Gina Atkins and Mike Batstone.
Penny Morley (right), of Farnham Family Services, talks about the rise of drug use in Oswego County. Looking on are Gina Atkins and Mike Batstone.

“So we do a lot of outreach and have a student assistance counseling program in all nine (school) districts in the county,” she said. “We do programming with adults throughout the county as well.”

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; and the Coalition to Combat Adolescent Substance Abuse that was formed to address the high level of adolescent substance abuse concerns 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.