FLY CREEK — About 50 people filled the Town of Otsego Building at 811 County Hwy. 26 on Jan. 25 to hear how to fight drug use in their homes and communities, and to listen to a panel of experts talk about the opioid epidemic. 

The two-plus hour event, presented by the Cooperstown Parent Teacher Association and other community groups, gave the audience a double feature of information: Julie Dostal, executive director of Leaf Council on Alcoholism & Addictions, presented an interactive program, “Shawna has a Secret,” where the audience looked through a typical teenage girl’s room to find signs of drug use; and an opioid round-table put together by Sharon Rankins-Burd, pastor of the Fly Creek United Methodist Church, that spoke about the epidemic from different perspectives.

Dostal let each group of participants inspect the mock room for four minutes. When she later told them there were about 30 signs of drug use in it, an audience member exclaimed, “we failed if there were 30 signs; we didn’t get close.” However, she told the audience even the sharpest parents only got 15 or 20 signs.

“If you were in 10 or 15, you were average. That’s pretty good,” she said. 

Shawna’s secret was hidden, sometimes in ways even Dostal had to be shown by local police departments. Drug packages were hidden in shoes, in fake soda cans and food packages and in various containers. Scales were hidden in CD containers. Books had compartments cut into them. 

Some of the signs Dostal spoke about seemed to shock the crowd. Lighters being turned up high to cook drugs seemed to be new information to the crown. Audience members gasped when Dostal said tampons could be used for alcohol consumption, and tampons in the trash that appear to be unused are a red flag. Some websites call the use of the tampons an alcohol enema.

Dostal said anyone who discovers a family member is addicted should treat the issue with love. She said it’s OK to be angry, but not to act or react in anger, and that help is available. 

“You do not have to do this alone,” she said. “Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease. It is not a moral failing.” 

Those words seemed to inspire several of the panel members, who spoke of opioid addictions from medical, legal and personal perspectives. The panel had four members: Cooperstown Police Chief Mike Covert; Miguel Martinez, program manager for Otsego County Addiction Recovery Services; and the Rev. Thomas LeBeau of the United Methodist Church of Cooperstown, spoke live. Mike Hodgman, a Bassett doctor in Emergency and Trauma Services, spoke via phone. 

Hodgman spoke on the history of the opioid epidemic, which he said grew out of the pain epidemic in the mid-1990s. Doctors were newly trained to treat pain, and “pharma filled the void,” he said. During a 15-year period to begin this century, opioid use in the United States use quadrupled, he said. When prescription drugs became more expensive, heroin prices dropped. And then synthetic heroins, such as fentanyl, made the epidemic more deadly. 

Covert spoke about the program he launched in 2015 to get opioid users into rehabs. He said he has helped hundreds of people. He said he became interested in fighting the epidemic in news ways when he realized, while working as a detective for the Otsego County Sheriff’s Department, that he was arresting different dealers, from the same gangs, in the same apartments, with the same drugs, week after week. He said city dealers can make four or five times the profit by coming upstate to places like Oneonta, and the problem won’t go away, because the demand is there. 

Martinez talked about the way drugs change people’s brains. He said the county uses blockers such as Narcan to stop drug overdoses.

Many of the speakers talked about the need for people to get rid of their old prescriptions. Almost everyone’s medicine cabinet is vulnerable to theft, they said. 

LeBeau ended the session by talking about the death of his son, Matt, who became addicted to opioids after several injuries as a teenager, and died three years ago, at age 41, from addiction. Despite the tragedy, LeBeau said he and his son grew close during the treatment and relapse process. 

“The last few years were wonderful living with him,” he said.  

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