A substance abuse forum at Honeoye Central School is among efforts to save lives in the face of a skyrocketing epidemic

HONEOYE — Ontario County had its 27th drug-overdose death of the year on Monday, as the abuse of heroin and other illicit drugs has skyrocketed.

“it has taken hold here,” said Ontario County Sheriff Phil Povero, who spoke with others at a Substance Abuse Forum Monday night at Honeoye Central School. The forum came less than 24 hours after that latest overdose death, a person found unconscious, “surrounded by needles and drug paraphernalia,” said Povero. Meanwhile, an average of three lives per week are saved through the use of the opiate antidote Narcan in Ontario County.

The number of deaths from drug overdose in all of 2015 for Ontario County was eight.

“I see families torn apart, people are dying,” said Ontario County sheriff’s Deputy Rebecca Edington, a school resource officer in the Honeoye district. Povero, Edington and several others shared their experience with substance abuse, from personal and professional viewpoints. The forum was the latest in a series of similar events sponsored by Partnership for Ontario County in ongoing efforts to tackle the drug problem.

A young man named Evan, a recovering heroin addict, talked about troubles in his life that led him to try most every drug he could get. He eventually tried heroin, which he described as sending him into “the depths of hell.” He didn’t get to that point overnight, he explained. “I didn’t wake up one day and become an addict.

“I had no idea I’d get hooked; I thought I was too smart to become an addict,” Evan said.

Debi Baker talked about losing her daughter, Cassandra, to drugs. Cassandra was 23 when she died in an accident that Debi said happened after her daughter was clean. But during the years before the accident her daughter was hooked on cocaine and methamphetamines. When Cassandra died in Florida on Aug. 10, 2008, she was the mother of twin baby girls just shy of their second birthday. Debi is now raising her granddaughters.

Honeoye school nurse Marybeth Tonkery talked about alcohol and marijuana use by students. “That is where it starts,” she said. Students are also mixing substances that they find, from caffeine products and prescription pills to cough medicine and liquid plant food — anything to get high, she said.

Tonkery urged everyone to become trained in first-aid methods and the use of Narcan, which is simple to use and can save lives when an overdose is from opiates.

“I was that junkie,” said Guy Morse, a clinical supervisor at Finger Lakes Addictions Counseling and Referral Agency (FLACRA). Once a drug addict himself, he now helps addicts recover.

“Part of the solution is treatment,” said Morse in a presentation that got some student audience members involved at the forum. His message to Evan and others in recovery: "Your life is not over, it has just begun.”

Diane Kellogg, school-based prevention educator with the Council on Alcoholism and Addictions of the Finger Lakes, talked about the need to take what the forums teach and carry it to the next step. Kellogg and others at the forum talked about bringing together parents, educators, students and community members to stand up against drug use and listen to students’ needs.

Speaking as well on that theme was Clarke Brown, a physical therapist of Brownstone Physical Therapy. He gave statistics and spoke from experience that showed how student athletes are more prone to drug and alcohol abuse. They are more apt to be binge drinkers than non-athletic students; get hurt more, which can prompt drug use; and “so take their drug of choice onto the field,” he said.

Povero reminded people about the Good Samaritan Act passed in 2011 to help save lives. The law gives basic legal protection for those who assist a person who is injured or in danger, which applies to a drug abuse situation. In these cases “it is more important to save a life than make an arrest,” he said.


By the numbers

8 Drug overdose deaths in Ontario County, 2015

27 Drug overdose deaths, 2016, as of Monday

3 Lives saved per week, on average, using Narcan

SOURCE: Ontario County Sheriff’s Office