Same mission but new shortened name for Orleans Recovery

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 20 May 2024 at 8:00 pm

Organization offers assistance to individuals and families fighting addictions

Photo by Ginny Kropf: Orleans County Chief Coroner Scott Schmidt and Susan Howard, assistant district attorney, display a sign at the Country Club Restaurant in Medina, promoting Orleans Recovery.

MEDINA – Get clean or die.

 That is Scott Schmidt’s advice for anyone using drugs.

As Orleans County’s chief coroner, Schmidt sees the devastating impact of overdoses from drug use.

Schmidt and Susan Howard, first assistant district attorney, are both key players in a group called Orleans Recovery.

The organization was originally known as Orleans – Recovery Hope Begins Here. It was started in 2017 by Kim Lockwood, Wayne Litchfield, Chris Crane, Tami Ashton and several others. Jail chaplain Don Snyder and Kathy Hodgins, clinical director at UConnectCare (formerly GCASA), came aboard shortly after, and along with Ashton are now board members of the organization.

“We are rebranding as Orleans Recovery,” Schmidt said.

Orleans Recovery applied for $50,000 from the opioid lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies and received $35,000. Of that money, $20,000 was spent rebranding and organizing the operation. Orleans Recovery solicited more volunteers and held fundraisers to bolster their accounts.

“In order to use the settlement funds, we have to spend it first and then apply to the county for reimbursement,” Schmidt said. “In the meantime, we still have pay rent and utilities for our office and obtain literature, office supplies and other incidentals with our own money. We were almost at critical mass. A generous benefactor advanced us $20,000 so we could get off the ground.

His daughter Hayley has created a logo consisting of a compass, to indicate they are heading in a different direction, Schmidt said.

Orleans Recovery has a redesigned website and offers free Narcan training and free fentanyl test strips.

Schmidt first became involved in Orleans Recovery when the late Wayne Litchfield asked him to speak at a meeting in Kendall about all the deaths from drug overdoses from his perspective as coroner.

“What we were wanting to do was help people with addictions,” Schmidt said. “Wayne talked about more money for a program he wanted to start. As coroner, I see accidental deaths all the time. Three weeks ago, there were two and last week there was one. It’s an increasing battle.”

Schmidt said drug deaths are hitting the county hard. On average he said there are 10 to 13 overdose deaths in the county each year.

“I know so far for the month of May this year, we’ve had at least 3 ODs, but all were saves,” he said. “I know we’ve had quite a few suspected OD fatalities so far in 2024.”

Deaths from drug overdoses are on the rise nationwide, up 360 percent in the last 10 years, Schmidt said. In 2023 in Erie County, there were 435 and already this year, there have been 165. Cocaine overdoses are up substantially state-wide, of which 80% involved fentanyl. Ninety percent of all drug overdoses involved Fentanyl.

“My job is getting more insane with opioid deaths, and they are preventable,” Schmidt said. “I got involved because everyone was talking a great game, but nothing was happening.”

Schmidt urges residents if they can’t stop taking drugs, at least test them so they don’t die. At least two of the recent deaths were from cocaine laced with fentanyl.

Susan Howard has become a key member in Orleans Recovery, Schmidt said.

“My perspective is different from Scott’s,” she said. “I’ve been with the DA’s office for 20 years and 80 percent of the cases coming through our office are drug driven. The number of people coming into drug court has gone down, and if we don’t get them into court, we can’t help them. By getting them in the lower court, we can help them before they do something more serious and end up in real trouble.”

One thing Howard is adamant about is starting up the drug court again if she is elected as district attorney.

“We now start at the felony level, and I want to start while they are still at the misdemeanor level,” Howard said. “Then they have the opportunity to get themselves on track, before drugs have taken over their life and they start stealing or hurting people to get drugs.”

Orleans Recovery’s mission is to bring attention to the community and what they’re doing. They have developed kits containing fentanyl test strips, information on how to use them and two packages with Narcan to possibly stop an overdose.

More than 200 Narcan kits were distributed at the Orleans County 4-H Fair last year, plus more than 60 at the Parade of Lights in Medina last November.

At a recent chicken barbecue Orleans Recovery sold more than 300 chicken dinners. Some meals were given to law enforcement personnel on duty. They were also distributed to people in temporary housing in Albion – 500 dinners in all.

Orleans Recovery has Narcan training scheduled at the Strawberry Festival and Lyndonville’s Fourth of July celebration. They will have a presence at Orleans County’s National Night Out, handing out literature, and will participate in International Awareness Day at the end of August. At the end of September or early October, they plan to have their own Orleans County Night Out and offer free food, possibly at Butts Park in Medina.

Orleans Recovery meets at 5:15 p.m. the third Monday of each month at Suite 190 in the old Arnold Gregory building, 243 South Main St., Albion. Anyone is welcome to attend.