INDEPENDENT LIVING: Unfortunately, some community problems remain

Sarah K. Lanzo

It has been 48 years since then-New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller declared war on the opiate problem in the Empire State with a set of severe drug-use laws. And with the resurgence of, and overwhelming issues around, the COVID-19 pandemic (some real, some political, yet all deadly), many people have turned their focus from the threat that was here before the coronavirus and its army of variants. However, I am not one to allow our attention to stray too long. We in Niagara County, in Western New York, and elsewhere within our state were making great progress at wrapping our arms around this problem and seeing real victories until a year and a half ago.

Now we are witnessing the opium enemy raising its ugly head again. Some attribute it to the months of isolation, the increasing rates of depression because of our battle with Covid, and still others say it’s simply because of our lack of attention.

I fully understand that many difficulties compound already-existing problems, and that some issues grow on the backs of others. But, in dealing with all these crises, knowledge and information is our best weapon. By fighting Covid with masks, social distancing, and vaccines, we can win the battle. However, with opium, awareness of the programs for the person with substance use disorder, encouragement for the families, and peer support for both can enable a community to come together and take back the ground that the opium monster has occupied. We can work to counter the lurking deadly crisis of opioid overdoses.

In her State of the County address in February, Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Rebecca J. Wydysh told her colleagues that overdoses increased from 369 in 2019 to 525 in 2020, and deaths more than doubled from 29 to 59. These numbers might seem rather small compared to Covid, but with assistance to addicts and good advice to family and friends, most of these are very preventable.

To try and raise consciousness of this, next week, my agency, Independent Living of Niagara County and Addict 2 Addict Niagara will hold our fifth annual Lockport Overdose Awareness Day Rally, which anyone can attend in-person or over the internet. The physical event will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Veteran's Memorial Park, 400 East Ave. The rally offers: free Narcan emergency opioid overdose treatment spray training; speakers from different backgrounds who have been affected by overdose; and a candlelight vigil with a bell-ringing ceremony for every life lost to overdose in Niagara and surrounding counties in 2020, along with a memorial table for loved ones to display photographs.

We are aware of the precautions dictated by these times. For those who come to the park, there is plenty of space for social distancing, plus hand sanitizer, and personal protective equipment will also be available. For those who prefer to participate online, a live stream will be available on the Addict 2 Addict Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/Addict2Addict-Niagara-393377121107726, as well as on Western New York Independent Living, Inc.’s YouTube page at: https://www.youtube.com/user/WNYIL.

We want to involve the whole community, so ILNC and A2A-N are encouraging businesses and households to display purple lights that night in support of the family members and friends of those who have lost a loved one to addiction. For more information about the event,  call Jillian Moss at (716) 284-4131, extension 146, or email her at jmoss@wnyil.org.

Sarah K. Lanzo is the director of Independent Living of Niagara County, a member of the Western New York Independent Living Inc. family of agencies that serve individuals with disabilities. For more information, call 284-4131, extension 200.

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