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New strategies to support those affected by opioid addiction

Ellen Abbott

Central New York is home to some new strategies meant to help victims of the heroin and opioid epidemic. The strategies include new kinds of support for families of victims, and for individuals recovering from overdoses.

Onondaga County’s new peer engagement specialist, Maria Sweeney, has started to make connections in central New York emergency rooms, to help individuals recovering from a drug abuse issue. She says often there is no one to offer support for recovery, once an addict is released from the hospital.

“Even when you do have a repeated substance abuse that brings you in there, you are treated until you are medically stable, and you are escorted out with a sheet of paper that gives you maybe the AA hotline number or a treatment center,” said Sweeney. “And nobody calls or follows up or helps you make the connection.”

She says it’s her job to offer that follow up support.

“It’s very difficult to advocate for yourself, when you’re in crisis,” said Sweeney. “So that’s my job, to help advocate with that person, get to know them, their issues, and refer them to the most appropriate treatment center for their unique situation.”

This peer engagement program is one of two new initiatives meant to help individuals find treatment for drug addictions in Onondaga, Cortland and Madison Counties. The second is to get families involved in the road to recovery. Family support navigator Ashley Dailey has started working with families of addicted individuals, who often have no idea what recovery entails.

“Having the families a part of the treatment process, and learning what addiction really is, and what recovery itself really requires, it allows for the whole family unit, and the addicted individual, to be much more successful long term.”

The two programs were launched with help from a $250,000 grant from New York state.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.