BATH, NY (WETM) — In a virtual community forum, officials in New York’s Southern Tier discussed the growing problems surrounding addiction that has spread through the community.
“I consider drug overdoses to be the No. 1 public safety issue,” Steuben County Sheriff Jim Allard said during the virtual community forum on March 18 that was sponsored by the Steuben Prevention Coalition Opioid Committee.
Because of COVID-19, drug addictions are “likely to gain a stronger foothold in the county,” said a concerned Allard. He also said that bail reform is actively adding to the drug problem in the community by forcing the courts to release people who are arrested on drug charges.
“We arrested the same person three times in one day on the same [drug] charges,” Allard told forum attendees. “But we have a weapon which is this: People will continue to try to beat their addictions if they have hope.”
Support groups designed to help those with addiction have been dramatically affected by COVID-19, according to the press release. The lack of personal touch and face-to-face action hinders the effort to fight abuse.
While Zoom and phone conversations may help those looking for support, they lack the personal touch so essential to recovery, said Julie Haar, Steuben County Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services counselor.
The mission for Thursday’s forum was to spread awareness about the services available for people with substance abuse. Community attitudes may be the most important element in recovery for people who struggle with alcohol and substance abuse, the panel said.
Addictions are often met with fear by the public. People with substance abuse can feel shame and degraded, according to Chairman Brandon Beuter, a certified peer advocate for AIM Independent Living Center. The stigmatization surrounding addiction makes fighting the disease even more difficult.
“People think homeless when they think of addiction,” Beuter said. “It’s not. It’s your doctor, it’s the police officer, it’s a teacher. And the stigma, the image of what an addict is stops them from admitting they have a problem.”
Alcoholism has been documented to be a disease as real as other diseases. “The only difference is the symptoms are behavioral and not physical,“ Haar said.
Haar explains the avoiding the physical pain that withdrawal from substances can cause “becomes central to their lives.”
“The problem is people believing they were never valuable or that their value has been destroyed by addiction. The people I see say ‘I’m scared, I’m tired,” she said. “They will find themselves doing things they never thought they would do.”