A contentious point of debate came during the forum held by the Onteora Central School District at its Middle/High School auditorium February 10, when the question arose — what is the right way to treat an addict and what are the right services?
The conclusion? There is no perfect way, nor just one way.
Panelist Kasandra Quednau, one of the founders of Rt. 212 Coalition that is also holding community meetings to combat the problem in the community, said for her, hitting rock bottom was jail time…and it worked. She said jail is not for everyone, and for others rock bottom could mean a successful time in rehab.
Speaker Vince Kelder, father to a son who died of a heroin overdose, who still calls himself a recovering drug/alcohol addict after 19 years clean, said the 12-step program works for him.
A frustrated father in the audience said his son goes missing, has threatened his father’s wife and explained a broken system where early on he could not get any help from the school. A mother told him that he was lucky his son was still alive, unlike her son. In the audience, someone yelled out that rehab didn’t work and, “they just feed you Xanax.” Frustration, sadness and confusion were served up on a plateful throughout the audience.
Young people, ex-drug and alcohol addicts, town and school officials, police officers and parents attended the forum on substance abuse, facilitated by Tamara Cooper from Family of Woodstock. A panel of nine consisted of representatives of different treatment options, law enforcement, family members of drug abusers who passed away from an overdose, and rehabilitated drug/alcohol abusers. Around 50 or so people attended, with some on the panel calling it a shame because only a small minority of parents attended the event.
“We sat here in front of a bunch of kids this morning,” said Kelder. “I’ll tell ya, I’m a bit surprised the amount of parents that are here with the number of kids I spoke to. I expected this place to be full and in the aisles, people would be standing up.” Earlier in the day, the same panel of people spoke to Middle/High school students in a meeting that was described as emotional and engaging.
Quednau told her gripping, tearful story. It started very early, in 7th grade when she began experimenting with alcohol and marijuana, and by the time she graduated High School she was snorting OxyContin. “There are things in life I said I would never do,” Quednau said. “I said I would never drop out of college — I dropped out of college in my third year because I was too high to go to class. I said I would never be a drug addict, but I sold everything I owned in order to get high and function.” She continued, “I said I would never shoot up, no matter what, I would never shoot up. By the time I was 21, I was shooting heroin every day.” Following failed attempts at rehab, she was arrested for burglary and put into a “Shock Incarceration,” program. Since 2014 she’s been sober, now back in school and hoping to take her experience to help others. Quednau commented on the sparse attendance. “This is a start. If I can save one person tonight, I will have accomplished something.”
Big Pharma opioids
Dr. Ray Harvey from the Institute for Family Health opened up the meeting by outlining the history of opioid availability, how doctors began prescribing opioids for common pain, such as back pain and were not aware how addicting it was. “It’s largely the result of the pharmaceutical industry,” Harvey said, “and they pushed it, they pumped money into advertising for pain medication, advertised this to the public.” He said OxyContin is an old drug that was, “reformulated as long acting and advertised as non addicting.” He compared it to the tobacco industry, “where there would be a panel, everybody is smoking and said, ‘smoking is not addicting, no cancer risk, etc. etc.’ — just blatant lies.” He described the billion dollar drug industry, but pointed out that once someone was addicted but no longer had a prescription from a doctor, the street value of the pills increased. So the next step became heroin, a cheap alternative. Harvey said after a Federal investigation, the company Perdue Pharma, the leading maker of OxyContin, “…were fined for basically starting an opioid epidemic, and fined $600 million — and that’s nothing for a company making over a billion a year, that’s change under a sofa.”
In treatment facilities, Harvey explained that Suboxone is a better alternative to methadone. But at one point someone from the audience yelled out, that it was also, “an opioid from big-pharma!”
Questions from the audience about law-enforcement were directed towards Police Officer Chad Storey and Ulster County Assistant District Attorney Michael Kavanaugh.
Experience, faith, hope…
In a night laced with confusion, blame and contention, attention was focused on schools, law enforcement, insurance companies. Questions were raised was enough was done? Was too much was done? If the addict is a victim, why incarcerate? Where are parents? Why does no one seem to care?
Cooper thanked Onteora Interim Superintendent Victoria McLaren and High School principal Lance Edelman for, “courage, the ability to bring the community together to talk about things that are difficult to talk about.” She said, “We talked about the resources we have here in school, we’ve talked about 12 step program, rehab, detox, the programs vetted in the schools, also the resources presented to us here coming from the hearts, their faith, their hope, their experience.” Attempting to lift the shame, stigma, and taboo on addiction was mentioned throughout the night, including mental health challenges, depression, anxiety…Health care professionals on the panel said they are trying to lift the veil so treatment is more readily available, in order to save lives.