Opioid deaths leave shattered families

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 July 2016 at 12:00 am

‘He was just like you and me. He got up every day and went to work.’ – Mother of 28-year-old who died from overdose

GCASA video

A former addict speaks in this video from the State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. The addict discussed how she went from smoking marijuana and drinking to using pain pills, and then more dangerous drugs. The video with other testimonials was shown in GCASA”s community room, with a banner on the wall, saying, “The Time To Take Action Is Now!”

ALBION – Robert Bale had a good job as a HVAC technician. He often worked 50 hours a week.

Bale, 28, also had a secret addiction. He used heroin. His family didn’t know it, nor did his roommate or close friends.

On March 10 he had a fatal overdose at age 28.

“He was just like you and me,” his mother Tammi Bale said Wednesday during a community meeting about the opioid crisis at GCASA’s Albion clinic. “He got up and went to work every day.”

Robert Bale

Robert Bale

Her son, a Brockport native, didn’t give signs of drug use. He didn’t steal or commit other crimes to feed his addiction.

“He kept it from everyone for four years,” his mother said.

The opioid epidemic has reached Orleans County with several recent deaths from heroin overdoses, according to the Genesee-Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.

Kathy Hodgins, director of treatment services for GCASA in Orleans County, said it is the biggest community drug crisis she has seen in her 20-year career, affecting people from all walks of life.

“This is the first time in my 20 years that one drug has caused such an impact in our community,” Hodgins said during Wednesday’s meeting.

GCASA officials said crisis has grown partly due to painkiller abuse. Many people become hooked on painkillers and then their prescription expires. Some will turn to heroin to get their fix. The heroin can be deadly, especially when mixed with fentanyl and other drugs, Hodgins said.

Tamara Ashton lost her daughter, Christina Ashton, to a drug overdose on June 27. Christina had been clean for 19 days. Her mother left the house for a 40-minute errand. When she came back her daughter was found dead in the backyard after someone dropped off heroin and her daughter took a fatal overdose. Christina was 34.

Christina Ashton

Christina Ashton

“I want people to know it can be anybody,” Tamara Ashton said.

Her daughter started using drugs about two years ago. She lost too much weight, stole from loved ones to buy drugs, and would be gone unaccounted for often for two or three days.

She went from drinking alcohol to crack cocaine to heroin.

“She just wasn’t the same girl,” her mother said.

The opioid crisis has the attention of local, state and national leaders. Orleans County has started a program in the county jail to help addicts transition from the jail to the community. That includes connections to addiction counselors and shots of Vivitrol, a treatment that blocks the effects of opioid addiction.

“Every person that gets clean is less crime in the community,” Sheriff Randy Bower said.

The addicts also need to be connected to the community, finding a strong purpose through perhaps work, volunteerism, church or service clubs, Bower said.

Randy Bower with GCASA

Sheriff Randy Bower receives training in using Narcan from Diana Fulcomer of GCASA. About 20 people received the training on Wednesday. Narcan can help someone suffering an overdose.

“It’s an illness,” Bower said about the addicts. “We have to be able to accept these people.”

Bower said the Sheriff’s Office wants to go to schools in Orleans County, giving presentations to students about the dangers of using painkillers without a prescription, and how they can lead to more dangerous and fatal drugs.

The issue has been in the news throughout the region, state and country due to the increase in overdose deaths. In nearby Erie County, the community is on pace to have 500 people die from overdose deaths this year.

GCASA wants to educate Orleans County about the crisis and give insight and help to parents and friends of people struggling with addiction.

The agency on Wednesday trained about 20 people in using Narcan, which can take someone out of an addicted state. The people trained received a Narcan kit to use in case of an opioid overdose.

Sherri Bensley

Sherri Bensley, assistant director of prevention for GCASA, discussing commonly used opioids during a presentation Wednesday. She said addicts get the drugs often from friends or relatives, “not the street corner drug dealer.”

GCASA leaders said the agency will have more community meetings to educate the public and get more people involved in fighting the crisis.

“This is just the start,” Bower said.

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