By Jason Emerson
HEAL (Heroin Epidemic Action League) Madison County recently celebrated its first year in existence, and with it comes a list of achievements as well as a need to expand its reach and influence and increase its number of organizational volunteers.
The organization’s primary mission is to raise awareness of the heroin epidemic in Central New York, help destigmatize the disease of addiction, provide education, provide support for those in addiction (as well as for family members) and attempt to bring more resources for treatment and recovery to the region.
“It’s been a good year. I’ve learned a lot this past year. I’ve learned we have lot of government agencies that don’t seem to communicate all that well,” said Dennis Gregg, one of the founders of HEAL Madison County. “This is an epidemic that has affected everybody. It’s hard to talk with anyone who doesn’t know someone or personally been affected by it, and I think, as a result, people have decided they need to do things themselves, and a lot of grassroots organizations have spring up.”
HEAL Madison County — founded by Laurie Hunt, Tom Usborne, Barb Holmes and Gregg in 2016 — has four priorities: education, prevention, treatment and law enforcement. While the four founders have been running the organization on their own, this small group of committed parents has made multiple accomplishment during the past year.
In addition to forming Narcotics Anonymous meetings and support groups, they have hosted school and community forums on heroin addiction in Madison, Onondaga and Cayuga Counties; actively lobbied state legislators, OASAS, the lieutenant governor and the governor for legislation passed in June 2016; become a participating member of the Onondaga County Heroin and Opiate Task Force; and hosted the meeting that brought six counties together to establish a regional crisis center for addiction, which will be operational by summer or fall of this year.
“To me, that was just one of many holes in the system,” Gregg said of the regional crisis center. “When the addict has been ready, the system hasn’t been ready. This will take care of the front end need for anyone in crisis. It will be a safe environment for them to go to for medical attention, maybe a warm meal and be placed in some type of treatment.”
Other holes in the system that HEAL Madison County is also working to plug is the lack of effective treatment for addicts, lack of good after-treatment follow-up care to ensure recovering addicts of success at living sober and the need to better educate people about addiction, which is “a disease, not a moral failing,” Gregg said.
As HEAL Madison County moves forward into its second year, its goals for improving its organization and therefore its overall effectiveness are many. They want to expand their footprint in Madison County, and to do that they need additional active participants and participation, as well as better organizational and communication skills, Gregg said.
The group is looking for volunteers to join and help in one of five newly formed committees: education, events, promotion, government and executive. These are part of the organizations overall need to improve its outreach and promote itself and its mission, to host more events and to more effectively coordinate with and lobby government officials and agencies.
“We need help organizing forums and school assemblies; we need the help of different social workers in schools; and we need the support of various school administrations, many of whom stick their head in the sand and pretend these problems don’t exist,” Gregg said. “We just need more hands on deck. It’s really been just a handful of us doing work this past year and we need help.”
HEAL Madison County is holding its next monthly meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, March 27, at the Lincklaen House in Cazenovia, and invites all interested people to attend.
For more information on the organization or the upcoming meeting, contact Dennis Gregg at 315-247-1684.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.