NORWICH – Yesterday, Dec. 1, the Norwich community held an informational meeting in the community room of Guernsey Memorial Library in hopes of addressing the addiction and drug problem that is facing the County.
“There are a lot of kids in school doing drugs and drinking alcohol. If you as a parent supply your children with alcohol or a place to drink, then you are a pusher. This topic is not nice,” said retired Norwich City School teacher, Donald Chirlin.
A panel was assembled of people in the community who were to speak at this event. The event was to run from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. and was moderated by Donna Wood-Craig.
This panel included: Jennah Shreve, a Drug Court graduate; Mike Galesky, a Drug Court graduate; Sarah VanTine, a Drug Court graduate; Connie Barnes, mother of a deceased drug victim and nurse; Sarah Stewart, mother of a former user; Jim Everard, Drug Court Facilitator; Elliot Stewart, a former user and Rehab Intake Director; Joseph McBride, Chenango County District Attorney; Frank Revoir, Chenango County Judge; and John Dunkel, Probation Officer.
“My best friend and I walked in and found my boyfriend dead, he overdosed. I came to Donna and said “enough is enough we have to get this out of the county,” I just want everyone to know we are real people and can be helped,” said Sarah VanTine.
VanTine is a recent graduate from the Drug Court program and admits to having first used heroin at the age of 14, “I should have been scared but I wasn’t, I thought I was cool.”
At the beginning of the panel each of the individuals were first asked to stand and give one word that they wanted the community to come away with at the end of the night. Some of the words spoken were; hope, relief, knowledge, acceptance, honesty, love, understanding, prevention, assistance, and caring.
“I used to create addicts, it took a really long time for me to actually get addicted. I used to be really involved in the distribution of all the drugs in this town. Two of my best friends passed away recently, and I have to live with the fact that I used to sell and even encourage them to use. Ultimately the punishment wasn’t jail, it was losing my two children,” said Galesky.
The night was to consist of a multitude of rounds of questions for the panel, which were asked by Wood-Craig. These questions would hopefully spark some thoughtful questions that the community would then be able to ask once the floor was opened to them at the end of the event.
“The Constitution doesn’t apply in your homes parents, ransack your kids rooms, I even encourage it, don’t be naïve as parents, kids are great liars,” said Revoir.
A concerned community member brought up the point of how to determine the difference between an addict and a drug dealer. To which Revoir answered, “Prison doesn’t work for addicts, the problem we face is drawing the distinction between an addict and a dealer. The dealers that come here to poison our community we try to remove forever, but the people in our community who are addicts we try to help,” shared Revoir.
One concerned citizen asked, “I have a family member who’s return from rehab was unsuccessful, he was only in rehab for 30 days and when he came back he had nowhere to turn so my question is why don’t we have a mobile crisis unit that is available at all hours of the night.”
This question sparked an answer from another member of the community as well as Jim Everard who advised that there is a mobile crisis unit being talked about and the Chenango County Sheriff's Office is in the infant stages of coordinating such a unit, however, as of now nothing exists in Chenango County.
"The resources in Norwich aren't where we want them to be as of now, but there are options out of state where addicts can receive treatment," said Elliot Stewart.
Wood-Craig alleged that despite a lack of funds, a sober living home, to be located on the outskirts of the Norwich, is in the works. This home would allow recovering addicts a place to be self sufficient while attempting to assimilate back into society.
"As a parent, sometimes you don't know where to go, it can be hard to go to the police. But as a community we need to become an accepting and loving community, not just attach these stigmas to these addicts," said Sarah Stewart, mother of Elliot who was a former user.
Another topic brought up by community members was the fact of what is being done in the schools to educate the children.
An individual from both Sherburne and Norwich Schools both stood up and announced that both the schools have started to put in place programs to help to educate the children.
“We have never seen a flood of heroin addiction like we are seeing now in our community and all over the nation. Our kids obviously never got the message. When I was a kid I knew I could do a lot of bad and stupid things, but never heroin because we were taught that you would die, do our kids know that,” said McBride.
Due to the outcry from former users, VanTine and Galesky as well as many others who influenced this panel, Donna Wood-Craig was able to organize this event for the community in hopes of sparking thought and action from a community that is seeking answers to an addiction epidemic.