HealthThe White Plains Examiner

Westchester Recognizes Overdose Awareness Day With Messages of Hope

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Westchester County Executive George Latimer speaks during the county’s program recognizing International Overdose Awareness Day last Thursday in White Plains.

As a teenager, Daniel Smith started drinking and taking drugs, as he described it, to help him deal with the problems and obstacles he faced in life.

In three years, he attended six different high schools, kicked out of school after school because of his use and addiction.

But it was later on when his best friend died that Smith realized he was on a ruinous path, not only hurting himself but others around him.

“From that day forward, I made sure that I was able to dedicate my life to being available to anyone” who needs help, Smith said.

Since Oct. 12, 2011, Smith has been clean, and today is a certified addiction counselor and recovery coach trainer for Mountainside Treatment Center, making good on his vow to help others like him.

Smith was one of the speakers at Westchester County’s ceremony late last Thursday afternoon of International Overdose Awareness Day in the public space behind the White Plains Public Library. The day, which is held every Aug. 31, was launched in 2001 by Sally Finn at the Salvation Army in Melbourne, Australia and has become the world’s largest campaign to end overdoses.

The effort also focuses on breaking down the stigma that prevents some people from getting the help they need because they are ashamed.

Michael Orth, commissioner of the county’s Department of Community Mental Health, said the day was not only a chance to remember those that have been lost to overdose, but also to reflect on the opportunities of hope that are available and to improve outcomes going forward through public education and financing resources.

“We have a significant opportunity at this point to expand education, prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery and provide those essential lessons and resources to our residents,” Orth said.

Addiction counselor and recovery coach trainer Daniel Smith tells his story of addiction and recovery during last week’s International Overdose Awareness Day program.

There have been encouraging signs in the fight against drugs and substance abuse, said Dennis Andrews, a social worker with the Westchester chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). However, there is also trouble lurking ahead, including the escalating levels of THC in marijuana bought on the street and the scourge of fentanyl.

Andrews said today the NCADD Westchester has a load of under 6,700 cases, less than half of the 15,000 when he started. But today the marijuana bought from dealers is about 30 percent THC, twice as potent as a generation earlier.

He also doesn’t like that marijuana has been legalized, which disproportionately harms poorer communities.

“What you’re seeing with legalization is many people can’t afford to go to the smoke shops, so they’re still buying the stuff on the streets, and the stuff on the streets is bad,” Andrews said.

Democratic state Sen. Nathalia Fernandez, chair of the Senate Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, said she will soon be embarking on a statewide tour that will highlight the needs of communities to fight substance abuse and opioids.

New York is receiving about $2 billion through the settlements with opioid manufacturers. Just last week, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that about $8 million was being used for harm reduction strategies to reduce overdoses.

“We know the path to recovery is long, we know it’s endless and there are obstacles along the way,” Fernandez said. “We need to have these support systems there every single day.”

County Executive George Latimer praised the professionals who are doing the work in the trenches to help those who are suffering. He said substance abuse can affect everyone regardless of background.

“The problem of drugs and drug overdoses is with us and all families,” Latimer said. “That is why there has to be a universal response. It has to include a partnership with government and business and the not-for-profits and the clergy.”

New Diversion Program

Last Thursday, Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah announced last Thursday, the launch of the Westchester Overdose Prevention and Treatment Initiative (OPT-In). The diversion program will offer community-based treatment and services instead of prosecution to individuals with substance use disorders arrested for misdemeanor drug possession in Westchester.

The pre-arraignment initiative will begin in September with White Plains Public Safety and the goal is to expand the program countywide to all Westchester Police Departments.




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