Submitted by: Maria Pericozzi
OSWEGO – The drug overdose deaths tripled nationally during 1999 to 2014. Oswego County has reflected this in its opioid crisis, but has recently implemented programs to combat drug abuse.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found that in 2015, out of 52,404 drug overdose deaths, 33,091 involved an opioid.
“We’ve had, in the city of Oswego, a 300 percent rise in heroin and opioid admissions since 2010,” Mayor William Barlow said. “That tells us that factually there is a presence of drugs in our community and there is a problem with addiction.”
On March 29, a new program went into effect letting residents turn in their dangerous substances to the Oswego Police Department, while in return receiving medical intervention and treatment in Oswego County.
With this program, anyone can enter the Oswego Police Department voluntarily handing over drugs to actively seek help; without the threat of being arrested.
The Rapid Evaluation for Appropriate Placement, REAP, program was created by Barlow. It consists of a partnership between the police department, the Oswego County District Attorney’s Office and Farnham Family Services.
“There are people in our community that we all know that struggle from addictions,” Barlow said. “I believe that local government has the obligation to help people that want to help themselves and that’s what this program does.”
The REAP Program will aid members of the community suffering from opiate and drug addiction using a three-prong approach: Enforcement, Education and Treatment, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.
After a REAP screening is conducted to determine that the person is qualified to participate in the program, the police will coordinate with Farnham to schedule an evaluation for the participant and provide appropriate treatment placement based on results of the evaluation.
“By partnering with Farnham Family Services and District Attorney Greg Oakes, we have given people a clear path to assistance, and we have begun treating addiction like the disease it is,” Barlow said in a press release.
Oswego Police Lt. Zachary Misztal said it is a great program that the community has not been able to offer until now.
“Nothing is worse as a police officer, or even a human being, than telling someone who is asking for help, ‘Sorry there is nothing I can do,’” Misztal said.
Misztal said the program is not a cure for the issues Oswego is having, but it is a step in the right direction.
“The only way to defeat these problems are to break the demand for it, for fighting the supply, is a never-ending battle,” Misztal said. “But, this program is voluntary and people have to not only want to get help, they need to ask for it.”
According to Misztal, one person has taken advantage of this program so far.
“I have run into this individual one time since they have entered the program and was met with what appeared to be a sincere thank you,” Misztal said. “So, as cliché as it sounds, if it helped one person, [it is] well worth it.”
Barlow said the program is no cost to the city. Farnham is not charging the city.
“We must take action in an effort to get drugs off our streets and out of our neighborhoods. We also must encourage and assist those struggling with addiction and drug abuse to get the help they desperately need,” Barlow said. “The REAP program accomplishes both of these goals by making the necessary help more accessible than ever without a cost to the city.”
Farnham is a New York State licensed, private, not-for-profit organization that helps people with substance use and behavioral health disorders.
According to its website homepage, Farnham provides high quality, recovery oriented and strengths based outpatient treatment and prevention services that are available to all residents of Oswego and surrounding counties.
Farnham is also opening a medication-assisted treatment program in August to help wean addicts off of dangerous substances under the supervision of physicians.
“I am proud to live and work in a community where our leaders think progressively and are willing to implement new and innovative approaches for citizens to get help,” Eric Bresee, executive director of Farnham said in a press release. “Increasing opportunities to engage in treatment is a key strategy in developing the gateway to recovery and impacting public health.”
A drop box was installed in the lobby of the Oswego Police Department for people to safely and anonymously dispose of their unused and unwanted medications.
Farnham partnered with the Oswego County Prevention Coalition, working through a grant from the Richard S. Shineman Foundation to place the drop box.
Penny Morley-Wise, a professor at Oswego State and the Oswego County Prevention Coalition steering committee co-chair, said the drop box was purchased to help reduce the availability of prescription medications in people’s homes and in the community.
According to Morley-Wise, since January 2016, the Oswego Police Department has received more than 100 pounds of medications, half of which can be used to get high.
Residents can deposit prescription patches, medications, ointments, over-the-counter medications, vitamins and pet medications in the 24-hour secure drop box.
Due to safety concerns, thermometers, needles, hydrogen peroxide, inhalers, aerosol cans, over-the-counter ointments, lotions or liquids and medication from businesses and clinics cannot be accepted.
Another drop box in Oswego County was also installed in The Medicine Shoppe in Phoenix in June 2016. Morley-Wise said they have received 94 pounds of medications.
“It was a pleasure to join with Farnham Family Services to help bring this important resource to the residents of the city of Oswego,” Barlow said on the city website. “One thing we can all do to protect our environment and discourage prescription drug abuse is to properly dispose of unused and outdated medications.”
According to the CDC, in New York State alone, 2,457 people died due to an accidental opioid overdose in 2015.
In 2014, three students from SUNY Oswego overdosed on heroin, resulting in the death of one and hospitalization of the other two.
Junior Russell Cox said although he was not a student when this occurred, he is proud to be going to school in a community that recognizes the problem.
“Although I don’t know much about the new programs, I think it is important that programs like these are being implemented,” Cox said. “With these types of programs, anyone can get the help they need to beat their addiction before something bad happens.”
Cox said he wished Oswego State would do more to prevent overdoses, but is glad the community is stepping up.
“I haven’t really heard much about overdoses at Oswego State other than at orientation,” Cox said. “It is something that is hard for people to talk about, especially when a death is involved, but it needs to be talked about. This issue isn’t going away.”