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Solutions sought in opioid fight

Jacob DeRochie/contributing photographer

Posters at a forum Wednesday night showcased photos of heroin and assorted opioids.

Early education and prevention efforts, along with better safety options could reduce heroin and opioid abuse, Cortland residents told state officials Wednesday.

“Despite all efforts … we have a long way to go to solve this problem,” said state Sen. James Seward (R-Milford), chairman of the Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction.

During a three-hour forum Wednesday afternoon in the County Office Building auditorium, lawmakers on the task force — which included Sens. George A. Amedore (R-Rotterdam), Fred Akshar (R-Colesville), Chris Jacobs (R-Buffalo) and Pamela Helming (R-Seneca Falls) — spoke with Cortland County officials, members of Cortland Area Communities That Care, doctors and educators, police and fire officials and the district attorney on what things should be considered in the 2018 legislative session to reduce the heroin and opioid use.

Wednesday’s forum marked the sixth this year in the state, Seward said.

Sara Watrous told the task force that even Tompkins Cortland Community College has not been spared. “This semester we actually experienced our first overdose on the campus,” Watrous said. The drug — heroin.

Watrous is the college’s alcohol and other drug use prevention coordinator and said the college has been working to address alcohol and drug issues. An Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous group have been established and for the past three years. Naloxone training has been offered on campus. It reverses narcotic overdoses.

However, Watrous said prevention and education are key, and the earlier the better. “Our students come to us often with drug-related issues already,” she said. “So prevention, especially at the elementary and secondary school levels, is so important.”

Dr. Russell Firman, chief medical officer at Cortland Regional Medical Center, said as a medical school student he received no training on addiction. His suggestion — start education efforts for doctors earlier.

“Education needs to start in medical school,” Firman said.

District Attorney Patrick Perfetti said better transportation to treatments sites would help Cortland because of its rural nature. “Every dollar spent in education and prevention reaps benefits down the road,” he said.

“The county has always dealt with drugs,” said Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms. “But now we are dealing with new drugs.”

“My job is a little different than everyone else’s because my job comes at the end,” said County Coroner Whitney Meeker. “When I’m called, someone is dead.”

Meeker said safety, hers and others, needs to be addressed.

When doing her job, Meeker told the task force she doesn’t want to take home any contaminants. “In my world it is called carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer, and just like that you’re gone,” she said. “If you touch it, You’re dead.”

Some of the tools she uses, like latex gloves and Tyvek suits, do not protect against it, she said. Money is needed to get better safety equipment. “Safety is paramount but financial resources are needed,” Meeker said.

The task force will take everything discussed to help formulate initiatives for 2018, Seward said. “This is something we need to continue because people are dying out there,” he said.

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