Last month’s column referenced the OPEN (Opioid Prevention Education Network) Conversation event we were planning to host at Clarence High School. I am proud to say that this past Tuesday’s program was a huge success! Our goal was to have an open, free-flowing dialogue with students and the audience about opioid prevention, abuse and the dangers of addiction. Aside from the success of the first forum, we have set the stage for a series of follow-up conversations. Through these continued prevention efforts, we can end the opioid epidemic we’ve been battling in every corner of Erie County.
The event began with a screening of “Blink of an Eye,” which is a powerful 12 minute movie about addiction and how it is affecting all of Western New York. It depicts a young woman who suffers a knee injury, becomes hooked on painkillers and as a result turns to heroin and dies of an overdose. Based on the hundreds of people in attendance, this is an all too familiar story.
The movie segued perfectly into our discussion led by KISS 98.5 morning show host Janet Snyder, who did a fantastic job engaging the audience. This non-threatening format allowed people to share their experiences and direct questions toward our panel, which possessed a wide variety of opioid addiction expertise. Our panelists included: Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein, emergency room physician Dr. Joshua Lynch, former Erie County Sheriff’s Department narcotics detective Alan Rozansky, substance abuse counselor and supervisor Carolyn Grisko, Clarence Town Drug Court founder Judge Mike Powers and a young man from Judge Powers’ drug court who is in recovery. Members of the panel spoke about warning signs of addiction, advice for parents who fear their child is using opiates, local resources for addiction and the dangerous repercussions that follow opioid abuse.
I’d especially like to commend the young man from Judge Powers’ drug court. He bravely spoke about his experience with drugs, which started when he was just 9 or 10 years old, and the difficult battle with addiction that followed. His testimony led other people in the audience to speak up and share their own experiences. By empowering people to speak up and tell their stories, we hope to break down barriers and end the stigma associated with addiction. These are critical messages for our youth if we truly want to prevent them from heading down a dangerous road.
This event would not have been possible without the help of Judge Powers, Clarence High School Assistant Principal Bob Coniglio, Clarence Youth Bureau Director Dawn Kinney, and “Blink of an Eye” film contributor Patricia Clune. We look forward to our continued efforts in the most important fight we can wage for our children and grandchildren. If you missed the OPEN forum or would like to hear it again, WBEN 930AM has a link to the audio from the evening on their website.