Reaching out, giving help

Boosted by a $2m grant, Catholic Charities of Orange, Sullivan and Ulster is expanding the fight against opioids to outlying parts of the region

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 12/18/19

GOSHEN, NY — Our neighbors, friends and families are suffering and dying. Reversing the opioid epidemic will encompass and call for the help of entire communities.

Catholic Charities of …

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Reaching out, giving help

Boosted by a $2m grant, Catholic Charities of Orange, Sullivan and Ulster is expanding the fight against opioids to outlying parts of the region

Posted

GOSHEN, NY — Our neighbors, friends and families are suffering and dying. Reversing the opioid epidemic will encompass and call for the help of entire communities.

Catholic Charities of Orange, Sullivan and Ulster is doing its part. Bolstered by $2 million in federal funding, the organization is reaching out to one group of people desperately in need.  The grant is being used to add staff and equipment in more distant rural communities, where lack of transportation and difficulty accessing services have made a bad situation worse.

“One out of 10 people has an opioid-use disorder,” said Dr. Dean Scher, CEO of Catholic Charities of Orange, Sullivan and Ulster Counties. “This grant was targeted to those people.”

Nationwide, Catholic Charities has provided disaster relief and worked with the poor for more than a century. Dealing with substance abuse is relatively new; the tri-county agency took the project over from Pius XII Youth and Family Services in the mid-2000s.  This also added programs for the homeless and immigrants—across three counties—to their list of services.

Care isn’t limited to Catholics. “Anybody is eligible [for help],” said Scher.

With the grant, there’s room to expand available technologies, and overcoming isolation is a priority.

Telemedicine will connect a psychiatrist in their Goshen location with people living in areas distant from mental-health care, or link a client to a peer counselor. In fixed locations like the Catskill Regional Medical Center in Harris, clients and the doctor or counselor can video conference. The program can also work in-home, said Kristin Jensen, chief advancement officer for Catholic Charities, but that depends on internet access. In some cases, the peer counselor can provide transportation.

The peer-support program is especially useful for those who feel like they are the only person abusing opioids in their small town. 

“The peers not only engage with those individuals over time... or help them get to a provider, but can link to other services,” Scher said. For instance, if food, clothing, or shelter is a problem, there are programs that can help.

And nobody gets it more than someone who has been there. 

He also emphasizes prevention. “We’ve provided evidence-based training to every school in Sullivan County,” he said.

“And it’s age-appropriate,” Jensen added.

For instance, Scher said, Sullivan County BOCES has implemented the “Too Good for Drugs” program, a curriculum based on social-learning theory that works to keep kids from getting started on drugs. “Too Good” (which also includes “Too Good for Violence”) teaches decision making, conflict resolution and problem solving while creating positive bonds among the children and their schools and communities.

This is on top of the work Catholic Charities already does. “[It] also has a host of social safety-net programs,” Scher said.  “We identify people who are high risk and provide a continuum of services.”

Those integrate with other services provided by the three counties and the various non-profits at work. Cornell Cooperative counsels on food choice. Soup kitchens feed the hungry. Medicaid offers transportation, and Sullivan County’s new bus service moves people in a loop from Liberty to Monticello to the hospital and the college, among other stops. Rural Sullivan Housing and others help people find homes, and the Office for the Aging can connect you with the assistance you need if you’re older. Thrift shops have coat drives. There are many more groups out there, and they all want to help.

Still among the biggest problems: stigma, Scher said. “If we want to improve someone’s willingness to enter treatment, we have to address stigma.”

In reality, addiction is a biological illness. The influence our genes have on our behavior is complicated. According to Maria Mavrikaki on the Harvard Health blog, genes affect our responses to substances and how stress impacts our brains. Our lives and communities—our environment—come into play.

Some lives are easier than others. Some people have more support.

But that’s not how addiction is portrayed; there’s a perception of the addicted as weak (“Oh, I don’t need drugs to cope with my life!”) or criminal (according to the Sentencing Project, incarceration skyrocketed after 1986, when Congress passed a law mandating stricter sentencing for crack-cocaine use, which was more prominent in black communities, versus powder cocaine, which was more often found in white areas.)

Some say it’s easy to think of drug use as a moral failing, because then we don’t have to face up to our society’s responsibility for the situation. Not just what may have caused it, but what it takes to fix it.

“If someone is suffering, meds are essential,” said Scher. “What’s most curative is someone’s ability to tell their stories.”  Medication-assisted treatment can deal with the physical need for opioids, clearing the way for the deeper pain to be addressed.

What can we do, as friends, family and neighbors? “Address stigma and support,” said Dr. Scher. “Promote greater compassion.” As he said in 2017, when they first got the grant, “People are dying and that needs to stop.”

Not sure what you need or where to find it? Contact Catholic Charities of Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties via their website, www.cccsos.org or by phone at 845/294-5124.

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