Cattaraugus County takes a look at drug problems

Heroin and other opiate drugs are becoming the drug of choice for many throughout the country.

The scourge has hit Cattaraugus County with many effects that reach beyond just the prevalence of an illegal substance. Officials throughout county government are seeing more and more of their budgets eaten by the drug and its effects.

So far, according to Dr. Kevin Watkins, public health director, the county has not seen a large number of deaths from the drug in the past three years, but the morbidity of the drug is just as prevalent. In 2011, Cattaraugus County had one death that was tied to heroin use. That number stayed the same in 2013, but was joined with two other intravenous drug-related deaths. In 2013, the number of deaths fell to only two with one being tied directly to heroin use, Watkins said.

According to Susan Andrews in the county Nursing Division, the number of cases of diseases, such as Hepatitis B and C, as well as HIV are on the rise throughout the county, and it is directly due to needle sharing.

Disease diagnosis is not the only time opiate users, and those around them, are finding their way to county services, Andrews said.

“On the maternal care side of things, we are seeing an increase in substance abuse, mental health issues and domestic violence,” she said. “It is (not) a requirement that these people come from at-risk populations, but we are seeing a rise in drug use … In 2014 we have seen two new cases of Hepatitis C. It is in a couple of people in their 30s, and one contracted through drug use.”

Another problem facing the county, as a result of the growing number of heroin users is in child protection, according to Dan Piccioli, commissioner of the county’s Social Service Department, who has seen the rise in the number of children that are being placed in foster care and out of the homes of opiate users.

“The situation starts with pain medication and moves to thing like opiates,” he said. “(The level of neglect) is scary because of those heroin and opiate houses.”

Watkins has initiated a summit of stakeholders in the community to figure out what can be done about the drug problem.

“I have initiated talks with law enforcement, mental health professionals, Community Services, Olean General Hospital, the Council on Addiction and Recovery Services and other agencies to create a task force to deal with this problem,” he said. “We are in the preliminary stages and sifting through ideas, but the problem seems to boil down to one thing, lack of resources.”

Watkins said three key areas are severely lacking, in terms of heading off a problem as large as heroin; prevention through education, intervention in services, and lack of law enforcement levels to stem the trafficking of the drug.

While this problem continues to grow, Watkins said the task force is at the very beginning of their mission.