Opioid epidemic topic of discussion at event in Amsterdam

From left, Amsterdam City Police Dectective Joseph Spencer, lSt. Mary's Healthcare Addiction Service representative Carol Greco, Chris Carpenter, Kristie Centi, Opioid Prevention Educator Jenna Mares, right, speak at the ppioid epidemic discussion at Lynch Literacy Academy in Amsterdam on Tuesday. (The Leader-Herald/Briana O'Hara)

AMSTERDAM — In partnership with Catholic Charities of Fulton and Montgomery Counties, Parent University of Community Schools at the Greater Amsterdam School District held a panel discussion on the opioid epidemic Tuesday.

The panel included Jenna Mares, opioid prevention educator for Catholic Charities of Fulton and Montgomery counties; Kristie Centi who had a family member die of an overdose; Chris Carpenter, who overcame addiction; Dr. Govind Rao, local pediatrican; Carol Greco, representative of St. Mary’s Healthcare Addiction Services and Detective Joseph Spencer of the Amsterdam police force who all shared their stories and information on opioids and addiction being a disease.

Mares said Catholic Charities of Fulton and Montgomery Counties received a grant in 2017 to do prevention and education with the middle school and high school who are at risk under-served and un-served in Montgomery, Fulton, Herkimer, Schoharie, Oneida and Otsego counties. She said they decided to focus on six communities within Fulton and Montgomery counties including Amsterdam, Gloversville, Canajoharie, Fort Plain, St. Johnsville and Cobleskill.

“Part of our grant and part of the work I’m doing is to raise awareness in the community about the opioid epidemic,” Mares said.

Centi shared her emotional story of her significant other, Brad Groves, who died of cardiac arrest and lost oxygen to his brain for 12 minutes. in Dec. 2016. Her and Groves had a son together who was born with down syndrome was airlifted to Albany Medical Center for an emergency heart surgery. Centi spoke about how Groves was an amazing father and a great support system during the two months their son was in the hospital. She said a year later their son had to get a 12 hour surgery that required him to get a pace maker. Centi said Groves’s addiction was pain medication and she suspected his addiction with the signs of “working all the time, but never having any money, money missing and long periods of time he would be gone.” Centi said when she became pregnant with their son, Groves was sober for almost two years. When he began using again with heroin.

“Although I never did drugs, his addiction became my addiction,” Centi said. She said on top of the heroine, he did cocaine to hide the signs of him doing heroin and took Xanax to sleep after the cocaine.

Carpenter shared his story on his drug addiction and how it affected his life. Carpenter said he grew up suffering with a spinal disease which gave him severe pain growing up and his family couldn’t afford the treatment he needed which led to another spinal disease that prevents him from standing straight. Carpenter said he was also a child abuse survivor with constant beatings to his back. because of all this, he has had several spinal surgeries and more.

He said he was prescribed Lortab which was his first experience with opioids. He was then prescribed fentanyl starting at a low dose an increasing to the point he only cared about when he was going to get his next dose of the drug.

Everything led to him to getting post traumatic stress disorder and got to a point where he had a nervous breakdown. He went into a treatment facility and was able to get off of every medication except the fentanyl.

“I had already lost a bunch of family members, I had already lost my marriage, I had already lost my house and I came close to losing my daughter,” Carpenter said. He said he has been sober for about six years and his daughter has been by his side the whole time.

Rao gave a brief slide show presentation giving some facts on drug addiction. As a pediatrician, he spoke about some of the teens he that he has been a doctor to since they were born and what it has been like to see them become drug users and parents’ denial of their child’s drug use.

He said when he sees drug tests come back positive he “feels bad too.”

Spencer also gave some statistics on opioids and drug addiction. He said the Amsterdam Police Department responded to 64 drug overdoses in 2017 and five of those were fatal.

Spencer said a theme police see when arresting a drug user is petty theft.

He said they’re more likely to steal from someone they know and it’s usually cash and electronics. When stealing from the community it’s petty theft from stores.

“By arresting them you are in a way making a bad situation worse,” Spencer said. He said the positive side to making an arrest is if they are arrested for theft and are found with criminal possesion of a substance that can lead to them to want to make a change and get clean.

Greco spoke about what the St. Mary’s Healthcare addiction services offer. She said they offer an in-patient rehab program for adults 18-years and older. She said they are in the midst of expanding which is a bad thing because that means there is a higher need for the services because there is a greater need in the community.

“My favorite thing is I would like to retire and go out of business. That would be the way to end my career,” Greco said.

She said she has been working in addiction services since 1986 and in the beginning of her career she mostly worked with people on alcohol and marijuana. “About eight years ago things started to shift and that’s when we started to see more and more people come in with opioid use disorders,”Greco said.

Greco said when they first started the walk-in services, they thought they would see about four people a week, but are actually getting about five people a day for their detox services. She said for people trying to stop using opioids and experiencing withdraws is like have the flu but 10 times worse than that.

“There’s help out there, they are not alone. There’s always someone willing to listen and always someplace to go, its just the matter of having information to get there,” Carpenter said.