October 20, 2021

SMACKED! program hits home

Catherine Wilde/contributing photographer

Clay Hapstak, left, a certified reovery peer advocate at Addiction Center of Broome County, Cortland City Court Judge Elizabeth Burns, Family Counseling Services peer specialist Mike Johnson, Tompkins County Alcohol and Drug Council clinical director Helen Kaplan, Cayuga Medical Center physician Dr. John-Paul Mead and Ithaca Tech. Sgt. Kevin Slattery speak Thursday in a panel discussion about heroin addiction and recovery in rural America.

DRYDEN — Samantha Gentz is a first-semester Tompkins Cortland Community College student who knows firsthand what it’s like to live with addiction.

Her addiction to heroin — which she snorted and injected — cost her custody of her children, now 9-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. But with the help of treatment programs, support from family, outpatient services and a desire to be a better mom, Gentz finally quit, regained custody of her children in June 2018 and found a new direction in life.

Gentz said she related strongly to people featured in a film that was screened at TC3 Thursday night: “SMACKED! Heroin Addiction & Recovery in Rural America.”

Put on by TC3’s Wellness Council in conjunction with Cortland Area Communities That Care, the film was shown to a crowd of about 80 at TC3 Thursday and at Cortland High School Tuesday. Thursday’s film showing was part of a forum that included a panel discussion led by people from all sectors — law enforcement, counseling services and medical providers — who talked about how the community can respond to addiction and support recovery efforts.

Sara Watrous, TC3’s alcohol and drug abuse prevention coordinator, said the wellness council screens a film with a panel discussion each year, so when Cortland Area Communities that Care approached the college about hosting the forum, it was a perfect fit.

Access to peer counselors and drug courts, for example, are part of the picture, said Watrous, as is viewing addiction as a disease and reducing the stigma around it.

The 65-minute film focused on how Delaware County has implemented measures like drug treatment court and community support programs to help addicts. It sent the message that addiction is a disease and the stigma should be taken out of it so that people can receive the help to stay sober.

The film showcased how addiction manifested in several Delaware County residents, a rural area east of Binghamton and south of Oneonta.

It cost them custody of their children, relationships, jobs and friendships.

But it also showed how they turned their lives around with the help of drug treatment court, counseling services, support groups and medical professionals.

One character in particular resonated with Gentz. A mother, talking about how addiction took her child away from her.

In one scene, the mother related how she was hung over and feeling sick the day after Christmas, while her baby cried in the playpen in the next room. The mother listened to her baby cry, knowing she should go to her but not going.

Ten minutes later, she went over to the playpen, looked over the top, and her baby looked back up at her, stopped crying and smiled.

“She had no idea I was a monster who didn’t want to take care of her,” said the mother, crying. “She saw her mom. And something inside me broke.”

She sought help.

Gentz has been sober for three years now. She’s pursuing a degree in chemical dependency so she can perhaps treat others like herself.

And in the meantime she has a message for people trying to stay sober:

“Try not to give up, even on your worst days.”