Counties share cost for chief of addiction/recovery efforts

HUDSON–Columbia and Greene counties are preparing to confront the opioid abuse crisis by hiring an addiction and recovery coordinator and suing opioid suppliers, in addition to other steps. Meanwhile, discussions about the goals of addiction and recovery efforts continue.

Deaths and medical emergencies attributed to opioids have increased since 2014 in New York, including the two counties. “Greene County has the third highest rate of opioid overdose deaths in the state,” says a flier for Greener Pathways, a community outreach program of Twin County Recovery Services.

The Columbia County Board of Supervisors adopted an Opioid Epidemic Response Plan in April 2017 and Greene County has passed similar legislation. Since then, the Columbia Greene Addiction Coalition (CGAC) has been reorganized and is now leading much of the action on this plan, with the “support, direction, and authority of both” county legislatures, according to a Columbia County press release last month. The two counties’ directors of community services—Michael Cole for Columbia and Maggie Graham for Greene–co-chair the CGAC, which Mr. Cole, speaking at a CGAC meeting earlier this year, called “a confluence of a lot of energy” from various directions.

Now the CGAC is looking to hire an addiction and recovery coordinator (ARC) addiction and recovery coordinator (ARC) to “execute the addiction and recovery priorities of both legislative bodies,” according to a resolution the Columbia County Board passed July 11. The ARC would “report to both counties’ Directors of Community Services, who report to their respective legislative committees.”

The appointment will continue for a two-year trial period, with a reevaluation scheduled for the 18 month. The ARC will earn $78,000 a year, and in July each county’s legislature agreed to pay half that cost.

“It’s going to happen,” Matt Murrell (R-Stockport), chairman of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors, said by phone July 20. The next step, he said, is for both the county attorneys of both counties to get together and write the employment contract. The CGAC has contracted with Twin County Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services to hire the ARC.

As for legal action against drug companies, last September Columbia County retained the law firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy to explore the potential of suing opioid sources. On July 19, a spokesperson for the law firm said by phone that suits from several counties “were consolidated and put before a judge in Suffolk County.” The spokesperson said the judge had resolved pre-trial issues a day earlier and that the suit would now be sent back to individual counties “and move to trial.”

Opioid abuse is not the only substance abuse crisis the counties face. “Do we want to cover just opioid problems or all substance abuse?” asked Victoria McGahan of the county Health Department at a meeting in May.

“All addictions,” said Mr. Cole. “My last five transports have been related to alcohol, not opioids.”

“Alcoholism continues to be the number one disease,” said Beth Schuster, executive director of Twin County Recovery Services.

Carl Quinn, assistant director of Greener Pathways, told a July 11 meeting of the ReEntry Task Force that for him, the definition of recovery definition changed. “I had to learn that people are in recovery when they say they are. My definition was total abstinence. But some people who have a drink once in a while but are off heroin are in recovery.”

The ReEntry Task Force focuses on people leaving incarceration and the issues they face in the outside world.

“People make behavior changes at their own pace or when ready,” said Keith Brown of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice.

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