Summit at SUNY Ulster delves into opioid crisis

Daily Freeman-1 year before

The summit, held Wednesday night in SUNY Ulster’s Vanderlyn Hall, brought together about 80 people from the recovery community, law enforcement, government, medical professions and the community at large.

But the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office has metamorphosed into a new organization when it comes to people who struggle with drugs, he said.

ORACLE is one result of this changing attitude, Figueroa said. In the past, he said, someone who had overdosed would have been arrested if drugs had been found in their possession. Not so today. Now it’s all about trying to help.<...r>
Phase 1 of the ORACLE program is opioid addiction education in the community, which began last summer; Phase 2, begun last month, is a hotline for anyone struggling with opioids.

ORACLE is notified about anyone suffering an overdose, and within 48 hours, a team contacts that person, and possibly family members, to offer help.

Wednesday night’s summit also was the kickoff of ORACLE’s third phase: bringing a medication-assisted opioid treatment option into jails.

The summit audience first watched an hourlong documentary, “Smacked,” about heroin addiction in the rural Catskills, created by Jessica Vecchione and co-written by Lillian Browne.

On the panel were Figueroa, state Sen. Jen Metzger, Deputy Ulster County Executive John Milgrim, Randi Kelder from the group RYAN (Raising Your Awareness About Narcotics), Dr. Matt Stupple from Ellenville Regional Hospital, David McNamara from the Samadhi recovery outreach center and Kingston City Court/Drug Court Judge Larry Ball.

The panel briefly discussed a number of large issues, including what can be done in schools, reducing stigmas and increasing openness, what’s being done to help newly sober addicts emerging from prisons, and the lack of housing for people in early recovery.

Liz Berardi, whose 23-year-old son died from an overdose just days after he was released from rehab, said he was placed in a house with no rules or oversight.

“There are no beds available. ... Our hands are tied,” he said. And if people are sent back to where they lived before, he said, the odds for recovery are poor.

Metzger, D-Rosendale, said little during the panel discussion but commented afterward that the state Senate was “really going to be aggressively tackling” the opioid crisis with a new task force, headed by the senators who chair the committees on Alcohol and Substance Abuse, Mental Health, and Health.

“I have a bill coming to vote, I think next week,” Metzger said, “to increase the state’s monitoring of opioid dispensing.” She said that while the federal government monitors opioid prescriptions, the state currently does not.

Panel moderator Vincent Martello, director of community health relations for the Ulster County Department of Health and Mental Health, said 80 percent of heroin addicts start on pain medications, according to the National Institutes of Health. He said the American Medical Association puts the number at 45 percent.

Martello also said medical schools "are very heavily funded by pharmaceutical companies,” and Stupple said there was "no time devoted to addictions in medical school."

"What we learned about opioids was very small, " he said, bringing his thumb and index finger together, indicating a tiny space. "But as soon as I got my degree, I could write [prescriptions] for any opiates.

“In those days,” Stupple said, “the ‘fifth vital sign’ was pain. And the measure of the quality of a medical facility was how well you addressed your patients’ pain.”

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