Encouraging understanding with the drug task force

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 8/11/21

MONTICELLO, NY — This past month, the Sullivan County Drug Task Force announced a partnership with Hope Not Handcuffs (HNH), a program that helps connect people suffering from substance use …

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Encouraging understanding with the drug task force

Posted

MONTICELLO, NY — This past month, the Sullivan County Drug Task Force announced a partnership with Hope Not Handcuffs (HNH), a program that helps connect people suffering from substance use disorder with treatment options.

At the heart of HNH’s mission lies the idea of treating people with respect. When a person with a substance use disorder walks into a police station, HNH sends them an “angel” advocate, who can provide them with comfort and connect them with treatment options as an alternative to jail time.

The idea of respect is important as well in the work done by the county drug task force, a collaboration of community organizers, law enforcement agents and government officials committed to tackling the issues of substance misuse in Sullivan County.

The effects of substance abuse

The social stigma of substance use disorder hinders people who use drugs when they try to find the help they need.

Social views of addictive substances and their misuse today are similar to those of alcohol in the ‘50s, says Wendy Brown, co-chair of the task force. With perspectives on the problem of substance use disorders that entirely miss the complex biological and societal influences involved, people don’t want to get involved in helping people who use drugs.

Those problems begin with the traumas of the everyday experience. “Everyone in their life has pain,” says Brown. “And everyone deals with that pain in different ways.”

Sometimes that pain can be dealt with in less harmful ways. (Brown’s method of choice is Häagen-Dazs ice cream; this reporter has a special fondness for coffee.) At other times, the pain that people feel is so squished down that they turn to more dangerous substances for comfort.

Once a person has taken substances, the biology of substance use kicks in. While some people don’t have the biological makeup that moves them from using substances to substance use disorder, others do. For those people who develop substance use disorders, the biological interaction between the substance and their body inflicts them with cravings too strong for them to combat alone.

A severe substance use disorder, as defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, involves “compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain.” These impacts make it imperative that people suffering from them find treatment. This is complicated by the lack of social recognition of those impacts and the resulting stigma around substance use disorders makes finding that treatment difficult.

The difficulty in understanding the impact of substance misuse means that, often, the best advocates for those suffering from substance use are those with personal lived experience, people in recovery and people with friends or family who have used drugs.

The leadership of the task force reflects the importance of lived experience. Brown grew up in a family affected by alcohol misuse; Meagan Galligan, co-chair of the task force and Sullivan County District Attorney, has a family member who suffered from substance use disorder, as does Sullivan County Sheriff Michael Schiff.

The drug task force

Part of the task force’s job is to take the lived experiences and the impassioned advocates in Sullivan County and to provide them a space for collaboration.

To that end, the task force is currently organized into a series of pillars, each of which assembles community groups and government agencies around a specific category of efforts. These include:

  • Information technology, responsible for maintaining electronic resources and databases for better understanding of the impact of substance use disorders and the resources available to treat them.
  • Emergency departments and hospitals, co-led by Jonathan Schiller of Garnet Health Medical Center-Catskills and Nick Batson of Crystal Run Healthcare.
  • Hope and prevention, made up of community-focused organizations such as BOCES, the Rural Health Network, and Sullivan 180.
  • Policy reform, led by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, that encourages reform at all levels of government to better address substance use disorders.
  • And law enforcement, led by Galligan and Schiff.

When a new organization begins to work with the task force, the pillar system lets it join seamlessly with the efforts that are already being done. HNH, the newest such organization, will serve on both the law enforcement and the hope and prevention pillars.

But the task force remains dynamic, and the pillar system—like the task force as a whole—can be restructured if another organizational scheme would serve the task at hand better.

For more information on Hope Not Handcuffs, stop by your local police station, call 833/428-HOPE, or visit www.tricounty
communitypartnership.org/program-
information. For resources to help with substance use concerns, call 1-866/832-5575. text #HOPENY, or visit www.sullivanny.us/Departments/HealthandFamilyServices/Dashboard.

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