Addressing a Community Crisis

The Adirondack Region is well known for its natural beauty, unique quality of life, and caring people. However, like all places, it is not immune to problems, challenges, and crisis. Across the entire country, the heroin and opioid epidemic has swept through towns, villages, and communities with devastating results. Addiction is a serious condition and it is not unique to opioids, but resurgence in the use of these substances has exacerbated an already challenging problem related to the abuse of drugs and alcohol. In 2016, the Substance Abuse Prevention and Recovery Coalition of Clinton County (SPARCC) was formed to bring together community leaders, treatment professionals, law enforcement officials, and concerned citizens in order to take action and seek solutions. Similarly, the Franklin County Prevention Task Force and the Essex County Heroin and Opioid Prevention Coalition have been doing similar work and the three groups have come together to create a regional effort and increased partnership.

The epidemic has had a devastating effect on families across the region, which creates a domino effect across nearly all aspects of community life. For example, this particular crisis has magnified an urgent need for foster care in Clinton, Essex, and Franklin Counties, leaving Social Services Agencies scrambling to meet an increasing need that overshadows existing resources. In many cases, children are being sent outside the region for foster care, which adds obvious strain to an already stressful situation. Being separated from relatives, friends, and schools can cause further trauma for the children and out-of-area placements create an added financial burden on local departments. A significant number of children in foster care throughout the three counties are placed due to one or more parent either being incarcerated or participating in residential treatment programs for addiction issues.

Often overlooked, the heroin and opioid crisis also has had a negative impact on businesses and employers across the region. In many cases, employers struggle to recruit and retain employees to meet the needs of their particular entity. Moreover, they struggle to assist valued employees, whose symptoms of addiction create obvious challenges in the workplace and typically in all aspects of their lives. Faced with mounting challenges and limited options, employers are losing valued colleagues to the devastating effects of the disease. SPARCC hosted a forum for employers this past fall, coordinated by Mike Carpenter of The Northeast Group, to highlight challenges and identify potential strategies. Numerous businesses, treatment providers, and community leaders participated in a robust dialogue resulting in several action items and a greater sense of the impact this crisis is having on employers.

Outreach to schools has been a significant part of the work occurring throughout the region. Numerous presentations and events have been held for students, parents, and faculty in order to raise awareness and provide prevention strategies. In addition, SPARCC has held three major community events at the Strand Theatre and the SUNY Plattsburgh Field House to engage the public on the escalating issues related to addiction, with a special emphasis on heroin and opioids. The three regional groups are currently partnering to create an informational and inspirational video production to be used for raising awareness, prevention, and recovery objectives. Local people from within Clinton, Essex, and Franklin Counties will be featured and the goal is to create a production that is cutting edge and impactful.

The heroin and opioid crisis creates an immense challenge, but with any challenge, there is also opportunity. The law enforcement community, for example, has been a strong voice throughout the region and has contributed a tremendous amount of value toward finding strategies and solutions to help address the urgent issues. Elected officials from local, state, and federal sources have also committed time and resources to helping. Assemblyman Jones, for example, has provided $20,000 in funding to assist the coalition with its work. Treatment providers, faith-based leaders, nonprofits, volunteers, and concerned citizens have come together to help alleviate a crisis that is harming families, causing death, and creating a reverberating wave of strain across nearly all facets of our regional community.

The opportunity is now, and it exists within all of us. In that opportunity lies the resilience, fortitude, empathy, and strength of the people who live throughout the Adirondack Region.