Opiate abuse, mostly from heroin, has been said to be ravaging communities across America, and Woodstock appears to be no different. Some believe it’s even worse here. With the recent news of at least two young people dying from heroin overdoses locally, a communal cry of heartache is being heard. Two young adults, Shayna Micucci and Kasandra Quednau have decided that enough-is-enough; they have started a grass-roots organization titled the Rt. 212 Coalition. Its first meeting was Tuesday evening, January 12 at Bread Alone and its mission is to bridge gaps in substance abuse services by linking resources throughout Route 212 from Phoenicia-to-Saugerties.
The icy roads were not ideal for driving, but that did not deter 40 or more people who attended. A long list of who’s who were in the small cafe: newly elected County Legislator Jonathan Heppner, an aid from State Senator George Amedore’s office; Town Board members Bill McKenna and Jay Wenk stopped by after a Town Board meeting; Onteora Central School District Interim Superintendent Victoria McLaren; ex- and current addicts, friends, parents, grandparents, and other family members of addicts; police, social workers, community organizers, local religious organizations and business owners. Other politicians who could not attend sent messages of support. Everyone mostly listened, there were no political speeches just introductions, and all agreed it was time pool resources and create a path to help.
“We are super excited to work with the community and hear what the community needs to work together and make resources available,” Micucci said.
Quednau agreed. “We found so many little pockets in the local community of wonderful things happening and what we want to do is reach out, find these little pockets, and bring them together.”
Micucci read their vision statement. “Rt.212 Coalition envisions a community that is free from the stigma associated with addiction and supports accessible substance abuse prevention, education, and treatment services.”
Woodstock Police Chief Clayton Keefe was introduced and was asked questions. “I’ve seen a lot of young adults, I’ve seen from babies, growing up and it breaks my heart every time something happens to them in our community,” said Keefe. During his years of police work, he described many difficult drug trends, but calls this latest batch of heroin, “the worst.” He offered that “we are here 24 hours, and if they have drugs they want to get rid of, bring them in, without fear of being prosecuted.” Police headquarters on Tinker Street has a drop-box for people to dispose of prescription painkillers so they’re not kept in the house and left vulnerable to young people or theft. Another person announced that all police departments have such a drop box.
Quednau mentioned a program titled PAARI or Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, a program that would help addicts find treatment instead of jail time and work through community services on prevention. Keefe said he would support such a program.
Keefe was asked about the URGENT task force (Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team), with people concerned that they overstep their power. Rachel Marco-Havens of Earth Guardians described URGENT as the local DEA and said there were rumors that URGENT was not willing to work with local police, but just take over a situation. “So what I want to ask,” she said to Keefe, “Are you comfortable working with them and do you have any other ideas, because I’m not buying what they’re doing.”
Keefe called them, “very beneficial,” and said the task force was just one part of a pool of resources the local police use.
The DARE generation
Quednau explained that very few support groups exist in the Woodstock area. “We think that having a Woodstock oriented support group for family and friends that are struggling with addiction, can come together and have a space to talk about it, because we realized people need to talk about this. They may have a brother, sister, mother, father — they don’t know what to do and a lot of parents don’t even know what to look for. They know something is wrong, but they can’t really figure it out and they try to contact the schools and maybe that doesn’t work out, this person, that person…there is just no place to come together and talk about it.”
Miccucci said they’ve contacted schools seeking input on early intervention programs for grade school children. “And not the friendly lion from DARE, that tells you drugs are bad, because truly I think that doesn’t work.” Quednau interjected laughing, “We are the DARE generation.” During the George W. Bush administration, DARE the early anti-drug prevention program, lost Federal Aid due to studies that concluded it indeed didn’t work. Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum discontinued the program several years ago.
Suggestions for programs
Counseling, insurance problems, paper work, prevention, needle exchange programs, peer-to-peer support groups, were either mentioned or recommended for programming. The Rt. 212 Coalition seeks to bring all of this information together.
Micucci said over 60 people have signed up for the Narcan training, held Wednesday, January 13, at the Jewish Woodstock Congregation. Narcan is a nose spray used to treat an opioid user who may have overdosed. It is not harmful if the person has not overdosed or overdosed on another substance. However it does cause immediate withdrawal symptoms. “I think it’s important to try and get it in our youths hands and get it to people who are actively using,” Quednau said, “or around people who are using. Let it be known you have a kit and you can only be a phone call away.” Family of Woodstock announced another training session.
Moving forward Micucci and Quednau plan to hold a vigil sometime in the spring and are working on a space for support groups and outreach programs.
The meeting took place around the same time President Obama was giving his State of the State address, mentioning very early in his speech this epidemic that has ravaged communities across America. Resources are available, a promise of more resources were proposed at the Federal level, now it is up to the community to utilize it and save its young people.
For more information or how to get involved go to www.rt212coalition.org or see it on FaceBook at Rt. 212 Coalition.