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Treatment and prevention the key to battling opioid addiction

February 15, 2018 07:24 PM

Millions of Americans are battling opioid addiction and every year, tens of thousands of people are dying. So how do you turn the tide of opioid abuse and begin shrinking those numbers?

Any effective solution must address both treatment and prevention. NewsChannel 13’s investigation into the opioid crisis in the Capital Region discovered there are efforts underway right now to better educate people about opioids *before* they get hooked.

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The first lesson people need to learn is that opioids don't care where you live, what you do, or how old you are. Local inmates battling addiction are men and women, young and old. All of them have different stories about how they got addicted, but similar thoughts on what might have made a difference.

"More education on how destructive this drug could be," noted Raymond Morales of Albany.

"I feel like if they showed you what it looked like, what it does to you, how it makes you sick - I feel like I would never touch it. It would make me scared. I feel like that would have helped me," echoed Asia Saglimbeni.

There have been drug education and awareness programs – D.A.R.E. for instance. Its effectiveness has been questionable and was not designed to address an epidemic of these proportions.

Enter the Addiction Care Center of Albany. Jennifer Vitkus is the director of community education and works with school districts like North Colonie to deliver evidence based substance abuse programming to students as young as 5 years old.

"So they're learning skills in kindergarten that they're going to reiterate back in 1st grade, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and continue on until they get into their high school years," explained Vitkus.

Little kids won't be taught what happens if you get high on opiates, but about handling peer pressure and knowing who to turn to for help with tough situations -- building a foundation that continued drug awareness can be built upon.

"Catching them before they make that risky decision," pointed out Vitkus.

That's the same motivation behind a series of community forums being held throughout Saratoga County by Sheriff Michael Zurlo.

"I think education is the big thing. I’ve got a team of four deputies now that are throughout our schools throughout the county that were going to push the education," pointed out Zurlo.

The forums aren't just for students. They happen in the evenings so anyone can attend and often include a recovering addict to further demonstrate anyone can get hooked on opiates.

"It doesn't discriminate. We had a 45-year-old in a motel room up in South Glens Falls the other day," pointed out Zurlo.

In Albany County, Sheriff Craig Apple has a different kind of education and awareness vehicle -- which really is a vehicle.

"People seem to relate to the bus really well. It is a bus donated by CDTA. What we did was we turned the seats all around so you’re looking to the back of the bus. We then put a jail cell in the back of the bus," explained Apple.

The Mobile Education Center travels to schools and even senior centers to give visitors a glimpse into addiction and where it leads.

Still, such large scale approaches can't rival the personal touch. Stephen Holock, a counselor at Shaker High School, says to have conversations with young people about drugs. Try to get them to listen. Be sure *you* do.

"Listen to your kids. Talk to them and listen to what they have to say and show them that these topics are not taboo," urged Holock.

Credits

Jerry Gretzinger

Copyright 2018 - WNYT-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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