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The opioid epidemic: voices from the front lines


As Teamster Union representative for county employees, I can say that there is an even bigger problem our county faces besides the bottom-of-the barrel wages paid to county employees. That problem is the county’s exploding opioid epidemic.

As journalists, we are trained to listen, listen, listen. As the union rep for Sullivan County, I have listened very carefully to the members who work in the field, and I am writing to relay what they all tell me. What startles me most deeply is, when I question employees who have been working the field for 30 to 40 years, virtually every family services, public health and community services employee agrees: never in our history have we faced this kind of overwhelming crisis.

Here’s just one of hundreds of such stories.

Last week, a child was hospitalized in shock after calling 911 to report that her overdosing mother lay unconscious on the kitchen floor. Our county workers had front-row seats to this catastrophe, and such catastrophes are now everyday occurrences.

Because of the incredible increase in children requiring foster care, our caseworkers are handling more cases than the state allows. All are working overtime. When they and others do go home, they are often haunted and near-traumatized by what they witnessed at work that day.

You want to go numb, but, you know if that happens too much, you can lose part of your soul. All these employees do this work because of their beliefs, not because of the low pay.

Did you know the county is required to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover each baby born of an addicted mother? Those numbers are steadily increasing.

At the Department of Motor Vehicles, employees relate stories of the ever-growing number of addicts rolling semi-conscious from their chairs and onto the floor, or stumbling to the window incoherent, papers askew and incomplete.

I know these same stories are repeating throughout the world at this same moment. I pray for those fighting the scourge of addiction in general and opioid addiction in particular.

The opioid epidemic is an existential threat to the future of Sullivan County. Please support all those on the front-line of this war. Our communities must think and act collectively, inside and outside the box, to win it.

You may not want to attack the problem, but the problem is attacking you.


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