County officials announce forum to tackle opiate abuse

MAYVILLE – County Executive Vince Horrigan will make good on his promise to address the local heroin epidemic.

On March 12, a communitywide forum consisting of law enforcement, treatment providers, mental health departments and families will convene at Chautauqua Suites, located at 215 W. Lake Road in Mayville, at 9:30 a.m. to tackle the issue head-on. The brainchild of Horrigan and Patricia Brinkman, Chautauqua County mental hygiene services director, the forum intends to shine a light on current practices, impacts of drug abuse, barriers for the growing opiate epidemic and solutions to curb it.

“Effective solutions to big problems require all of us to come together to evaluate where we are and how we can become more effective in reversing the growing problem of drug abuse in Chautauqua County,” Horrigan said. “I think we need to understand all the aspects of (this problem), what is the scope, what are the options, where are the most effective treatment centers located and what are we currently doing.”

The forum will be broken into morning and afternoon sessions, with the former including a panel of experts to discuss the current state of the opiate epidemic, and the latter including facilitated breakout sessions on related topics from family response to legislative action.

According to Brinkman, the intent of the breakout sessions is to identify tangible strategies that can be implemented to enhance community awareness, reduce access, improve the crisis response and treatment, assist families and create greater collaboration between community agencies, funders and the government.

“This is a multifaceted problem facing each of us, either within our families or through our profession … (it) will require strategies to impact law enforcement, treatment, crisis services, prevention and funding,” Brinkman said.

A special targeted breakout session will also summarize the collected data from each of the workgroups involved in the Chautauqua County Employability Coalition. This, according to Brinkman, will give attendees the opportunity to learn about present services, new regulations and incentive programs available in the county.

Though skeptics might describe such a forum as purely cosmetic or another example of “talking instead of doing,” others have high hopes for substantive reforms.

Pat Munson, executive director of the Chautauqua Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Council, said she is confident that Horrigan – whom she worked alongside while he led the Red Cross in Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties – will follow through with the forum’s mission.

“(Horrigan) is very down to earth and has a “let’s get it done” attitude,” Munson said. “I’m hoping under his leadership that there will be some positive, long-term action.”

Munson acknowledged that the impetus for combating the local drug epidemic tends to die down every four to five years, emphasizing the need for an ongoing community coalition to maintain its momentum.

“This is not a quick fix,” Munson said. “But it starts with the community … businesses, schools, churches … and hopefully people will be able to see how they can help to make long-term changes.”

For more information on the forum, contact the Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene at 753-4104 or the county executive’s office at 753-4211.