State Senators Jen Metzger (SD-42) and James Skoufis (SD-39) on Aug. 6 presented $13,000 in state funding to the Tri-County Community Partnership to support the coalition’s opioid outreach efforts.
And last week, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus and District Attorney David Hoovler joined the legislature to announce that the county has provided $10,000 to the partnership.
Communities in the Hudson Valley are at the epicenter of the opioid crisis in New York State, with Ulster, Sullivan, Orange, and Delaware counties all facing rates of opioid deaths that exceed the state average. Seventy-two people in Orange County have died so far this year due to opioid overdoses.
Last year, 106 deaths were caused by opioid overdoses in Orange County - nearly double the statewide average for that year.
The Tri-County Community Partnership, in collaboration with Families Against Narcotics, has brought the Hope Not Handcuffs program to the area. Through this initiative, specially trained police officers and community members known as “angel” volunteers team up to help people seeking treatment for substance use get the help they need.
Any person struggling with addiction can walk into a participating police department and ask for help, and an angel volunteer will be called to the station to help that person find treatment.
More than 500 volunteers have signed up to become Angels since January, said Annette Kahrs, president of the Tri-County Community Partnership and Program Director of Hope Not Handcuffs Hudson Valley.
"It’s really an incredible demonstration of human kindness that so many people have come forward to help somebody out, it just shows how far this issue has touched lives," Kahrs said.
The participating municipalities include the Town of Goshen, Town of Wallkill, City of Middletown, Town of Crawford, Town of Montgomery, Village of Maybrook, Village of Walden, and the Town of Mount Hope. The Town of New Windsor and City of Port Jervis are expected to launch programs in the near future.
Bereaved parents take action
Parents who have lost children to opioids have been instrumental in bringing the program to the county.
“As a parent that has lost a child to this horrible opioid epidemic, I understand the importance of having resources available to help fund programs like Hope Not Handcuffs," said Laura Beck, Angel Coordinator for the Hudson Valley program. "Grassroots coalitions like the Tri-County Community Partnership have been able to bring our volunteer angels together with our local police departments to truly make a change and offer compassion and kindness to those suffering from addiction. This disease does not discriminate, and our communities need to fight back together.”
Skoufis and Metzger secured the funding during the 2019 legislative session. Following the funding announcement at the Montgomery Police Department, staff from their offices joined community members for a Narcan training session delivered by the overdose prevention program Keep It Moving.
Lauren Mandel and Donette Smith, who delivered the training, created the program in memory of their son, 22-year-old Zane Mandel-Michalak, who lost his life because of an accidental fentanyl poisoning in September 2017 - just 13 weeks after graduating from Siena College School of Social Work.
"The opioid crisis is a non-partisan issue, and I am proud that our senators are taking action to support an organization with proven success," Mandel said.
Skoufis said “addiction is a disease that no one asks for, and it must be treated as such by our communities, law enforcement, and local government.
"Hope Not Handcuffs has been instrumental in helping rehabilitate those who have suffered in the grips of addiction and I’m proud to deliver this funding that will help propel its program forward," the senator added. "Our work does not stop here - I’m committed to continuing to fight as hard as I can to end this tragic opioid epidemic in our Hudson Valley.”
Neuhaus said he was "pleased to join the Police Chief’s Association and the Legislature in supporting this valuable program. We in county government are doing all that we can to assist people who suffer from addiction and to help their loved ones as well. It’s the county’s goal to be a part of the solution to this national issue. Working together, we can help protect our children and our communities from the dangers of addiction.”