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Allegany County leaders grapple with opioid epidemic

Efforts to combat an opioid epidemic continue in Allegany County as a legislature panel forwards a study to county lawmakers.

One finding: a lack of funding is hindering efforts to curb opioid and heroin abuse in one of the state’s most rural counties.

The draft plan was prepared by the Allegany County Heroin and Opioid Abuse Committee. Panel chair Judith Hopkins, who sits on the county legislature, told WBFO the primary goal aims to improve treatment programs.

“We’re looking at all the areas of treatment, prevention, law enforcement and recovery. We’re trying to focus a lot on the treatment and recovery, and one of the programs we’re trying to develop is a day treatment,/day reporting type of program.”

The ad hoc study group was formed last April after a 2016 state task force revealed heroin overdoses to be the leading cause of accidental deaths in the state. A later county study red-flagged a 222% increase in admissions to drug treatment programs among people who are 18 to 24 between 2005 and 2014. Hopkins said it’s clearthat drugs have taken a devastating toll on her community.

“Just over the last few months we’ve lost two young women. And just two weeks ago, we lost one young man," she said, noting that there are questions about the causes of their sudden deaths. "They were known to be having drug and opioid issues.”

Allegany County’s sparse population makes it difficult to obtain adequate funding for programs, according to the report.

“Because we don’t have the [population[ numbers, we don’t get the money for building a treatment center right here in Allegany,” Hopkins said. “But even if it’s in Buffalo, it’s much closer to send our patients than to send them to the Adirondacks, which has happened. And sometimes they have to wait six months to get into a treatment program.”

The report concludes that inconsistent treatment strategies, lack of insurance and the stigma that is attached to opioid abuse have been roadblocks to prevention and recovery.

Hopkins noted that officials in Allegany County are working closely with state leaders in an attempt to address the issues.

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