Opioid Crisis Word Cloud on White Background

The feverish pace of business for Chemung County government that started in January has not shown signs of letting up yet – something that is good for everyone who lives in or cares about our community. 

The Opioid Crisis

As most of us know by now, the opioid crisis does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter where you live, what you do for work, how long you went to school or whether you or your family has ever been in trouble with the law. I was reminded of this yet again last week. Watching friends — who are outstanding parents — come to grips with the death of their son was a poignant reminder that this issue must be the headliner of every single issue list. Little else matters if we cannot find ways to better protect our community’s children.

Of course, the big question is what to do about it. I posed this question last week in a Facebook post, and received a myriad of interesting and diverse responses, including these very insightful thoughts from Kathy Reagan, someone I have known for a long time and greatly respect:

  1. Publicize again via tv, newspapers and social media the numbers of opioid deaths in our county and contiguous counties for the past 10 years. Compare to other causes of death. 
  2. The drug trade and violence go hand in hand, so both should be addressed together. Ask government leaders, other community stakeholders, and members of the community at large to literally stand unified together and declare “Chemung County drug dealers have no home here”. Like the Elmira shamrock. Make signs available for residents to place outside their homes. Make consequences for drug dealing in our community greater than risk and profit.
  3. Gun buy back.
  4. More police face time in drug infested neighborhoods to establish trust and discourage drug deals. More street cameras focusing on criminals with weapons. Continue to publicize 271-halt for tips.
  5. Explore county/city eligibility for more grants to fight the epidemic due to drugs, violence and poverty in Elmira and Chemung County.
  6. Establish or re-establish a time-limited Chemung County opioid/drug addiction task force. One initial meeting to introduce members and explain goals of the task force, but then main communication with substantive input can take place via email or text within disciplines. Each discipline should agree on best practice recommendations to establish realistic short term and long term goals for our community, and report them to the legislature.
  7. Continue to hold medical professionals and pharmacies legally and criminally accountable for prescription abuse.
  8. Consider overlooking cannabis positive drug tests for more workforce development low risk jobs and apprenticeships.
  9. Continue Drug court as an alternative to jail and highlight those who recover. Addicts do recover every day.
  10. Refer to state and national websites: oasas.ny.govomh.ny.govsamhsa.govaha.org/opioidshhs.gov/opioid for information and best practices.
  11. Refer to Star gazette editorial of April 7th re: need for medication assisted recovery for opioids.
  12. Locally, refer to chemungcountyhealth.org for information. There is currently a drug free coalition through the health department that is closed, but with the possibility of opening meetings to the public. Continue to advertise medication drop box locations.
  13. Locally, make AA and NA area schedules more available for the community at large. Trinity, New Dawn or STARS likely have the most recent schedules. Look for open meetings where visitors can attend. For someone reluctant to go alone, a fried or family member can attend with him or her. Establish Alateen again in our community for kids affected by a family members addiction. Publicize area Alanon meetings for friends and family of those addicted.
  14. Brand park pool restoration via Historic Elmira.
  15. Enlist community volunteers for any task.

Additionally, volunteers from the local iMatter chapter reached out to ask me to spread the word that they are working very hard on this issue and would love to have new volunteers get involved.

As a new member of the Legislature, I am still at the very early stages of the learning curve in terms of finding ways to use policy and local legislation to influence matters like this. Please keep the suggestions coming, and I will explore ways the Legislature and county government in general can help out.

Town Hall Meeting

On April 3, 2019 I hosted a Town Hall meeting at the Town of Elmira’s Community Center:

There will be at three additional Town Hall events this year. I hope to see many of you there!

Chemung County Industrial Development Agency Audits

The CCIDA’s 2018 audit is now complete and can be found here. A video of the meeting where the CCIDA Board discussed the audit is embedded below.

Additional audits related to CCIDA and some of its projects are still underway and will be made public when they are received.

The Chemung County Nursing Facility

At last Monday night’s Full Legislature meeting several current and former employees of the Chemung County nursing facility spoke out about claims that the facility is facing serious staff shortages. Their remarks begin 10:40 in the video below:

As a medical malpractice attorney, I am acutely aware of the problems that can arise from understaffing. Based on what was said at the meeting, county government must take a very serious look at what is happening to see if there are ways to address these matters.

The Legislative Attorney

Finally, the issue regarding the Legislative Attorney has evolved along two different fronts. The litigation is ongoing, with the initial appearance having been pushed back to May 6th.

However, the Legislature has undertaken acts that may render the litigation moot – or at least unnecessary. In February the Legislature voted 14-1 to amend its Charter to explicitly state its may hire counsel that is independent from the County Attorney’s office. Many other charter counties that have county executives have taken this step as it helps clear up any potential ambiguity about the matter.

In March County Executive Chris Moss vetoed the charter amendment, and last Monday the Legislature voted 14-1 to override his veto.

The charter amendment calls for a “permissive referendum”, meaning County Executive Moss could circulate petitions to have the decision of whether to allow the Legislature to have independent counsel placed on November’s ballot, or its possible the judge hearing the lawsuit will rule we must do so. If neither happens, the charter will be amended.

This issue along withe the decision of whether to allow Moss to hire his own attorney was discussed in a Budget Committee meeting late last month starting at 9:15:

Christina Sonsire