The Oneida County Opioid Task Force recognized International Overdose Awareness Day today with an event focusing on the stigma surrounding addiction that featured a nationally-recognized expert and a special video that included the perspectives of a local parent who lost a child to overdose and a person with addiction.
Oneida County Opioid Task Force Chairs County Executive Anthony J. Picente, Jr., Sheriff Robert M. Maciol and District Attorney Scott D. McNamara hosted the event at the County Office Building to raise the issue and honor those lost to overdose.
The event featured a special video commissioned by the Task Force that included perspectives from a parent who lost a child to overdose, a person living with addiction and a medical provider who focused on how the negative impacts of stigma and shame affects people with addiction.
“As we continue to lose lives to overdose at alarming rates across the country, it’s incumbent upon us to take a deeper look at how shame and stigma may unknowingly contribute to more overdose deaths in our community,” Picente said. “It’s evident that we have many dedicated people in our community working hard to help people with addictions, but all of us— community leaders, first responders, treatment providers, media, families and the general public— can do more to see the humanity in people with addictions by learning how we can root stigma out of our words, policies and practices so we can more effectively help the people who need us.”
Guest speaker, Gary Mendell, founder and CEO of Shatterproof, a national nonprofit committed to ending stigma associated with addiction, also presented at the event. Mendell discussed the loss of his son Brian to addiction and how he founded Shatterproof in an attempt to spare other families the same tragedy. Prior to losing his son, Mendell founded HEI Hotels & Resorts, a multi-billion-dollar company.
“We applaud Oneida County for prioritizing the importance of taking measures to reduce and prevent addiction as well as the way it is talked about in mainstream society,” Mendell said. “This will help to change attitudes and behaviors, which will eventually transform hearts and minds concerning the unjust stigma related to substance use disorder. Shatterproof commends the county for its commitment to this important, life-giving work.”
“The stigma surrounding addiction is problematic on many levels,” McNamara said. “In the case of my office, the stigma felt by people who use drugs that prevents them from admitting they have a problem can pose a barrier to us directing them through the criminal justice system in the most beneficial way. When we can overcome that stigma, we can get them into Drug Court, which is an immense help in getting people on the road to recovery.”
Picente also announced the results of the county’s “Save-a-Life” naloxone (Narcan) distribution campaign, in which 12 partner agencies participated in an unprecedented distribution of over 1,200 naloxone kits to businesses and community members in just two months’ time. Distribution teams promoting naloxone as a first a first aid tool, also attended numerous community events and even mailed the kits to those who requested them online.
Businesses, organizations and individuals interested in obtaining “Save-a-life” kits can do so by visiting www.ocopioidtaskforce.org.
“It is truly an honor and privilege to be a Co-Chair of the Oneida County Opioid Task Force along with County Executive Picente and District Attorney McNamara and to witness first hand, the amazing commitment and dedication of the members of this team who work tirelessly to make a difference and to save lives in our community,” Maciol said. “I have said, time after time, that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. This is a medical problem, not a criminal problem. We must continue to think outside of the box and we must do all we can to end the stigma of drug use. Shaming them or locking them up are not effective ways to treat drug addiction.”
In the coming months, Oneida County will ramp up initiatives to reduce overdose deaths including distribution of 100 additional Narcan Emergency Cabinets (both indoor and outdoor) and over 7,000 fentanyl test strips for dissemination to people who use drugs.
In addition, recognizing that many children and adults gain access to opioids and other drugs for the first time from medicine cabinets at home or at a relative or friend’s house, the county will work with Opioid Task Force members to distribute 12,000 Deterra Drug Deactivation bags to the general public so they can safely and permanently deactivate, destroy and dispose of prescription medications in the convenience of their homes. Information on where the public can access these bags will be released in the upcoming weeks.