Last month's community drug forum in Mayville was deemed by many of its attendees as a productive "first step" in addressing Chautauqua County's drug problem.
County Executive Vince Horrigan, who chaired the forum along with Mental Hygiene Director Pat Brinkman, credits it for significantly raising the awareness of drug addiction in the county, namely the epidemic of heroin and prescription medication.
But now that a month has passed, many are left wondering about the forum's results. Has progress been made? Have actions been taken? And perhaps most importantly, is the momentum continuing?
"Our next step is in three action areas: education/advocacy, treatment and prevention," Horrigan said. "We are going to bring together all of the players who helped set up the drug forum, and then outline who will be on these three action teams to advance our work."
These "action teams," according to Horrigan and Brinkman, will be responsible for tangible strategies in enhancing community awareness, reducing access, improving crisis response and treatment, assisting families and creating greater collaboration between community agencies, funders and the government.
The teams are scheduled to meet on Thursday, April 24. Time and location have yet to be determined.
"We are going to bring together all of the players who helped set up the drug forum, and then outline who will be on these three action teams to advance our work."
Horrigan, while acknowledging that not everyone will agree on certain ideas and approaches at the meeting, still believes that bringing people together and fleshing out these differences is extremely vital.
Indeed, a particular area of concern will be insurance companies and how best to thwart them from determining the amount of care a patient is given.
Rick Huber, executive director of the Jamestown Mental Health Association and self-described "street fighter" for struggling addicts, has been a frequent critic of insurance companies over the past several years, accusing them of making otherwise available programs inaccessible.
"The system is broken," Huber said in an earlier interview with The Post-Journal. "If the addict relapses, they're kicked out of the program. That's like if your cancer went into remission, and then came back in three years ... and you were denied treatment. It shouldn't work that way."
Pat Munson, executive director of CASAC, agreed that insurance companies should be addressed, but that the political process is a more feasible way to effect change.
"Drug and alcohol programs cannot go to these insurance companies and demand that they pay for treatment," Munson said. "What we can do is write in support of current legislation in the state that would take the treatment determinations for insurance out of the hands of insurance companies and put it in the hands of qualified health professionals. It's not a quick fix, but it's something we can do."
Despite no "quick fix," Munson and Huber both believe the county and its leadership have taken the right approach in combating the local drug problem.
"There seems to be a lot of forward movement ... it didn't just quit after the last forum which is what you're always afraid of," Huber said. "The people who I work with down here have more hope than I have ever seen in all the years that I have been here. They now believe that changes are going to be made so they can get out of this cycle that they're caught up in. I've never seen that before. It's phenomenal."
This forward movement is coupled with an equally aggressive posture taken by local law enforcement in apprehending drug dealers and their drug paraphernalia.
According to Captain Robert F. Samuelson, division commander of the Jamestown Police Department, the recent string of drug busts in the city are just the beginning of a prolonged effort to weed out illegal drugs and their dealers from the community.
In addition, local police are setting up prescription drug drop-off sites and starting to carry naloxone kits to counter opiate overdoses.
When asked about these efforts and what drives him in fixing the drug problem writ large, Horrigan pointed to the ubiquitous nature of drugs and how reducing addiction will have a tremendous impact on the community.
"I want Chautauqua County to be a healthy and prosperous community," he said. "The problem of drug abuse weaves its way into our job creation, into our poverty situation and into our quality of life. As county executive, it is a paramount priority for me to take this head on and make sure we're looking at it with our eyes wide open ... to bring everybody together with a comprehensive solution."