New York State Senator Dr. Terrence Murphy and the non-profit organization Families in Support of Treatment (F.I.S.T.) co-hosted a drug forum at the Crompond Intermediate School in Yorktown Heights, New York on April 19 in an attempt to jump-start a community conversation on the stringent heroin problem affecting Westchester County. A well-known advocate for people struggling with drug addiction, Dr. Terrence Murphy, who also serves as co-chair of the senate’s Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, regarded the Yorktown forum as a key event aimed at lending a helping hand to those suffering from addictions and passing legislation designed to get drug dealers off the streets of the county.
Anthony Rizzuto, the founder and executive director of Families in Support of Treatment, an organization created to provide help to families of addicts, was surprised to see only a relatively small number of attendees given the context of an opioid overdose epidemic sweeping the state and the nation. A major focus of the drug forum was the toll opiate addiction takes on families of struggling addicts. Other topics of discussion included the importance of identifying where opioid addiction begins, ways of coping with and ending the stigma associated with opiate abuse, drug addiction signs and symptoms, treatment options and prevention methods.
Many of the speakers at the Yorktown forum highlighted the fact that addicts share environmental factors, gateway drugs, opiate availability and emotional issues that make them more vulnerable to substance abuse. Anthony Rizzuto also stressed that 100% of the people he has treated for heroin addiction did not start with heroin, but with prescription opiates. Kym Laube, executive director of HUGS explained that once any of the four " walls of protection" (i.e. family, individual/peer, community and school) around a young individual is broken, it allows addictive substances to permeate.
Patrice Wallace Moore, who serves as the vice president and CEO of Liberty Care Management challenged attendees to rethink their ideas about drug addiction, emphasizing that treatment is a circular experience, as opposed to a linear one. As a person can get on and off at any time in the cycle, it is crucial for both individual and families to understand all the treatment options available to them. Moore continued by discussing in-patient and out-patient options, reiterating the need to be partners, not merely providers, in the fight against the drug abuse epidemic.
The message that this community forum hoped to spread is that drug addiction is a disease requiring the attention of not only those directly involved but also of the entire community. Three of Westchester County's most prominent treatment and counseling community organizations - Alliance for Safe Kids (ASK), Yorktown Against Heroin and Drug Crisis in Our Backyard joined forces with Families in Support of Treatment and other community groups to host this collaborative and enlightening forum on drug addiction. The Yorkshire forum provided access to valuable resources for both individuals and families seeking help and, by strengthening the safety net for each other, proved to be an excellent opportunity to get involved and stay informed as community allies.