NEW HARTFORD, N.Y. - Parents, teachers, law enforcement, substance abuse experts, and recovering addicts spoke about the importance of raising awareness about the opioid epidemic at a form held Wednesday night.
The forum was put on by Skills USA at the Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES.
The panelists included Jeannette Pavlus, director of alcohol, substance abuse and dual recovery for the Oneida County Department of Mental Health; Grant Garramone, Oneida County executive administrative assistant district attorney; Jodi Warren, director of prevention services for the Center for Family Life and Recovery; Anthony Salce, emergency medical services education coordinator for the Mohawk Valley Health System; Deputy Oneida County Sheriff Lauren Marleau; Alaina Broccoli, RN, OHM BOCES CTEC school nurse; Janet Desens, RN, OHM BOCES Bridges school nurse; Katie Burns, a peer advocate from the Center for Family Life and Recovery; and Kristie Cieslak, a parent affected by the opioid epidemic.
Those who attended the forum also asked the panelists questions about resources and helping those with addiction.
"It knocked on my door and it took my child," Kristie Cieslak, a parent affected by the opioid epidemic said. "My daughter was a human being, she was a beautiful young lady and I want to humanize that, I want people to understand that addiction does not discriminate, it can effect anybody."
Others at the forum stressed the importance of having resources available for those who are suffering.
"I'm in recovery myself, I have not used opiates in seven years and what I was lacking in my recovery was support," Katie Burns said.
Burns is now a peer advocate for the Center for Family Life and Recovery. What she needed was someone like herself.
"We can really use our lived experience to help the through what they're going through, so we start from today on and move forward," Burns said. "It's all about progression, we want growth and strength and all of that in people's recoveries."
All of the panelists fielded questions from two high school students who are very invested in educating their peers on the dangers of opioid use, Luke Stell, SkillsUSA president at OHM BOCES, and Matt Rosado, the Skills USA treasurer.
“I just feel that young adults should be informed about what opioids do to us and how they damage and ruin our lives,” Stell said.
Rosado says he believes it’s important to educate his peers and also keep an eye on the as well.
“If you see something going on with another classmate or a peer tell somebody and get that out there, because if they don’t get the help then, who knows what might happen down the road.”
A big part of the discussion is the stigma surrounding those who suffer from drug addiction.
“It’s hard when with the stigma to be like ‘I have an issue,’ because some people don’t support it as a disease, it’s a choice and that’s still a huge discussion and controversy,” Burns said.
“There’s definitely a scare factor if you are a user of these drugs, you don’t want other people knowing, you think they’re going to judge you, and it’s sad, these people should be able to reach out to others without having to feel the backlash of that, they should be getting all of the help they can, they shouldn’t be suffering from it even more,” Stell said.
With drug abuse and drug addiction continuing to be a growing epidemic, there are several local resources available for those who need help.