Todd R. McAdam/managing editor
Members of 607/315 Healing Hearts have been distributing the book “Undoing Drugs: The Untold Story of Harm Reduction and the Future of Addiction,” including copies to Cortland County legislators. They plan to organize a public reading of the book in April.
Dean O’Gorman wants to put a book in front of every Cortland County legislator, and as many people as he can in an effort to reduce the harm of opioid addiction.
“We should be looking ahead of the issue,” O’Gorman said last week. “These people are in an excruciating amount of pain. They have a mental issue and we can address that.”
O’Gorman, the founder of 315/607 Healing Hearts — a support group for people who lost a child to addiction — is working with Sara Watrous of Cortland Area Communities that Care to organize a community read of “Undoing Drugs: The Untold Story of Harm Reduction and the Future of Addiction” by journalist Maia Szalavitz.
Watrous said preventing death from opioids means distributing naloxone, which can counteract the effect of an overdose.
“Almost all overdose deaths are preventable,” Watrous said. “When someone overdoses, there’s often a person nearby. There’s a potential to save that person.”
Harm reduction looks to reduce the effect of substance abuse through a number of strategies, on the theory that keeping addicted people alive and healthy is the first step to getting them into addiction treatment. It advocates needle-exchange programs, medication-assisted addiction treatment and other efforts to reduce the harm of addiction, reports the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“This needs to be read by every legislator,” O’Gorman said. “People in active addiction ask about this book.”
Book discussions are planned 7 p.m. April 11 and 10 a.m. April 23 at the Cortland Free Library. A Zoom discussion with Szalavitz will be 3 p.m. April 27 to discuss harm reduction.
“At a community level, I know we need changes,” said O’Gorman, whose son, Spencer, died of overdose in 2017.
“We need quicker and better access to addiction services.” O’Gorman said services in the area such as Family Counseling Services and Cortland County Mental Health deal with high turnover, long waits and difficulty keeping patients long enough to recover.
“We’re putting people off after weeks and months,” O’Gorman said. “When someone needs help, they need help now.”
Book discussions are planned at Cortland Free Library to discuss “Undoing Drugs: The Untold Story of Harm Reduction and the Future of Addiction”:
A Zoom discussion with author Maia Szalavitz will be 3 p.m. April 27 to discuss harm reduction.
To get a copy of the book, contact Sara Watrous at email@example.com or call or text 607-232-1618.
Jessica Woodard of Cortland became sober after her son found her passed out in 2017. Her addiction has its roots in pain medication for kidney stones in 2005.
“I wasn’t aware of addiction at the time,” Woodard said. “I started to find out from the streets you can find this and find that.”
But finding help was hard. “There’s a waiting list,” Woodard said. She was turned away from one place for lack of insurance, before she landed at Family Counseling Services after she spent time in jail.
What worked for her was one-on-one counseling. Now, she is training to be a drug and alcohol counselor.
“I have a brother on the streets,” Woodward said. “I want to show you can get sober and live a normal life.”
Family Counseling Services CEO Lisa Hoeschele said the need for addiction and mental health services in Cortland County outstrips the ability of health groups to provide it.
“We’re not providing a real solid basis for families to engage with communities,” Hoeschele said. “I feel like I’ve been saying this for 10 years.”
The state already uses harm reduction strategies on other issues, such as wearing seatbelts and drunk driving enforcement, O’Gorman said. However, drugs are often treated as a criminal issue rather than a health issue. He said advocating for complete abstinence is often counter-productive.
“Somebody wants to stop using 20 times a day. They might stop using heroin and just use marijuana. Some will say they’re not in recovery. Why would we discourage that?” O’Gorman asked. “I feel like the system has let them down.”
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