HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. -- The Hoosick Armory Youth Center and Community Coalition continued a discourse about drug use in the community on Thursday, which began with a town hall meeting in April. That meeting featured a panel to discuss the effects of addiction on individuals, families and the surrounding community.
The second town hall meeting, titled "In Our Own Back Yard, Part Two," brought about 50 residents from Bennington and Hoosick Falls to the HAYC3 Armory to discuss how residents can use community support to overcome a stigma put on drug users and what resources are available to them.
The discussion began with a presentation by Mount Anthony Union High School student Austin Bourn and local video-marketing expert Jeff Grimshaw. As part of MAU's "Quantum Leap" program, Bourn wrote a rap song engaging students who believe a recent New York Times article on heroin created a national stigma on MAU students when the newspaper referenced inaccurate data about Bennington.
"As society makes the transition from traditional media to new media, the same rules apply that perception is reality. That perception and reality that the New York Times created for students at (MAU) students, was that there is a heroin epidemic when in fact there is zero evidence from the Vermont State Police," Grimshaw said.
Grimshaw is working with students in the "Quantum Leap" program to try to make the New York Times retract their story. Not only has a stigma been placed around the Bennington community associating it with heroin use, but many communities have also placed a stigma on drug users.
Hoosick Falls resident and recovering opiate addict Tabetha Paddock spoke at the town hall meeting. She wanted to contradict the negative attitude associated with addicts by asking for understanding and support from the community.
Paddock is starting an unofficial, uncertified weekly "Narcotics Anonymous" meeting in the basement of the HAYC3 Armory, 80 Church St., every Monday at 7 p.m. starting June 9 to provide a support group for people struggling with addiction.
Paddock said people who suffer from addiction need help and understanding from the community. She urged those in attendance not to turn them away with the stigma that they are bad people. "I think even our police force has begun to realize that addiction is an illness, it's not a crime. They are very helpful: They are not there to harm you, they are not there to arrest you, (rather) they want the best for you."
Assistant chief of Hoosick Falls Police Department Harold McClellan said that it's important to recognize the difference between an "addicted" user and a "selfish" dealer. "The most significant thing I've learned is that there is a horrible (stigma) attached to heroin addiction. We as a police department are trying to make our officers aware of it."
The town hall meeting attempted to publicize what treatment options and support are available in the Hoosick Falls and Bennington areas. The largest public concern at the meeting was the lack of access to treatment options. HAYC3 and Bennington's Alliance for Community Transformation are working together to make those resources known.
For individuals with or without insurance, there are inpatient rehabilitation centers to see individuals through withdraw. Whether or not somebody can afford outpatient treatment thereafter, there are Narcotics Anonymous meetings and support groups for recovering addicts or families at the Turning Point Club in Bennington, 465 Main St. Additional resources are available through the Hoosick Falls branch of Unified Services, http://www.rensco.com/mental_hoosick.asp.
"Treatment just makes sense," said private practice addiction psychiatrist and addiction medicine specialist Dr. Nels Kloster. "People avoid treatment due to a matter of shame. A community will avoid having treatment facilities or subaxone, (an opiate blocker treatment drug), available because they have this idea that they're failing that ‘these awful people' should not be getting help by getting a drug for a drug, but there is a whole range of treatments."
Chief medical officer of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center Dr. Trey Dobson made a stand that healthcare is in a unique position to help treat addiction, which he said is a regional and national problem rather than a local one.
"In a matter of a few years, what you are seeing in the United States is a move from competition to collaboration among all healthcare providers Even though the resources are not (entirely) there, there is an incredible amount of collaboration going on. That's a good thing in terms of how we can better early recognize these problems."
HAYC3 of Hoosick Falls and ACT of Bennington are making themselves centerpoints in the community as places people can turn to for information or support. Visit HAYC3 at http://hayc3.org/ or ACT at http://actbennington.org/ for contact information.
The U.S. House of Representatives adopted an emendment to the 2015 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Bill last week to increase the account for the Organized Crime Drug Force by $4 million. That amendment was introduced by U.S. Rep Chris Gibson, R, N.Y.-19, to target drug trafficing organizations, particularly those dealing with opiates.
"Local law enforcement agencies need strong partners at the federal level to keep illicit drugs from crossing our borders and entering our neighborhoods," Gibson noted in a press release.
Contact Tom Momberg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg