SPARCC, or Substance Abuse and Recovery of Clinton County, was formed in 2016 to raise public awareness and enhance opioid addiction prevention efforts in the North Country. The group is now seeking volunteers to tell their addiction stories in hopes of getting more people into recovery and eliminating stigma.
Last February, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced funding for a detox center in Schuyler Falls near Plattsburgh. It was anticipated the facility would be open and operational within a year but it will now be early next year before it opens. In the intervening time the addiction treatment community in the region has redoubled its efforts to deal with the crisis and educate the public.
Clinton County Department of Social Services Director of Legal and Social Services Christine Peters says the addiction crisis is significantly impacting the child welfare system. “Over 50 percent of the petitions that we have filed in abuse and neglect and also many of the reports that we deal with have substance abuse involved in them. There isn’t one place in the building that isn’t dealing with the opiate epidemic. But I think also you know treatment’s dealing with it. The court system is dealing with it. Law enforcement is dealing with it. The business community is dealing with it. The hospital is dealing with it. It is our community’s problem.”
CVPH Chief Medical Officer Kent Hall says while prevention is crucial, emergency responders must have ready access to Narcan due to the increasing numbers of overdoses. Hall explains that’s because Fentanyl, a strong synthetic drug, is often mixed with heroin. “These packets don’t come with come with ingredient labels on them and they end up you know lying somewhere not breathing. And if somebody can’t get to them in a very short period of time then they end up dead. And so that’s why we are very strong proponents for having Narcan, ways of getting that medication to them, on an urgent basis.”
A number of efforts to deal with the addiction crisis are ongoing across the region. In November, Burlington created a task force and last month Mayor Miro Weinberger outlined 11 principles to guide the city’s approach to the crisis. On April 4th he hosted a discussion on the book Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opioid Epidemic with its author.
On the same evening in Plattsburgh SPARCC screened the FBI and DEA documentary Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict: FBI Director James Comey: “You’re going to watch unscripted interviews that include some raw emotion and some profanity. You’re going to witness real tragedy and learn what happens when drugs take hold of real people and don’t let go.”
More than 900 people watched and then discussed the crisis. Kent Hall says it’s too early to tell if forums and events like this are helping to stem the problem. “The conversations are changing. And the conversations are not about you know we’ve got to lock them all up. This is about: we are all affected by this and we all need to come together in order to address it. SPARCC is about getting those people together and the synergy that occurs.”
SPARCC is recruiting individuals willing to share their stories on its Facebook page. Both Peters and Champlain Valley Family Center Executive Director Connie Wille hope real stories can break the stigma attached to addiction.
Peters: “Our hope is that puts a face on addiction because if addiction doesn’t look like somebody that you live with, work with, or go to school with, it’s foreign to you.”
Wille: “And you know listening to somebody share their personal story of being active in disease and how they engaged in recovery and then recovery, what it’s like now, is probably one of the best ways to offer hope. And that’s a critical piece that we want to get out there.”