Local group plans initiatives to combat opiate epidemic

CARA CHAPMAN/STAFF PHOTOFrom left, Clinton County Director of Social Services Christine Peters; United Way of the Adirondack Region Inc. Executive Director and CEO John Bernardi; and Behavioral Health Services North Chief of Services Peter Trout talk about the efforts of Substance Abuse Prevention and Recovery of Clinton County (SPARCC) Friday. The coalition is sponsoring a showing of the film "Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict," which will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Strand Center for the Arts.

PLATTSBURGH — Ninety percent of Clinton County residents in inpatient substance-abuse treatment facilities from 2013 to 2015 had a primary or secondary diagnosis of opiate or heroin abuse.

On top of that, 50 percent of children in local foster care are placed there by services for reasons related to the opiate epidemic, Behavioral Health Services North Chief of Services Peter Trout said.

Those and other statistics are what Substance Abuse Prevention and Recovery of Clinton County, also known as SPARCC, hopes to combat by addressing four key areas: prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery.


Trout, who chairs SPARCC, and other members of the coalition's steering committee spoke at a press conference held at the United Way of the Adirondack Region Inc. Friday.

The group formed in 2016 after members of several area providers attended a conference in Vermont in fall 2015 and decided to unite their resources.

John Bernardi, UWAR's executive director and CEO, said retired Assemblywoman Janet Duprey was a catalyst in bringing people together to form SPARCC and Assemblyman Billy Jones is quite engaged with the group.

Trout explained that unlike other coalitions created solely to focus on the opiate problem, SPARCC also hopes to address alcohol and marijuana issues.

“10.7 percent of the county’s population has a chemical dependency problem,” he said, and 20.4 reportedly binge drink.


As part of its prevention piece, the coalition is sponsoring the showing of "Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict," a film produced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration and other governmental agencies, Clinton County Director of Social Services Christine Peters said.

The film follows challenges faced by several individuals struggling with addiction.

"It’s a good way to introduce to the community that it (substance abuse) does start often with prescription drugs, not just illicit drug use," she said.

But Peters said the best part of Tuesday night’s event will be listening to the stories of community members personally affected by addiction.

An individual in recovery, along with Amber-Lin Meconi and Francene Cornell, whose brother and son, Steven Cornell Jr., died of an overdose in July 2016, will share their stories.

They will take part in a panel that will also include Champlain Valley Family Center for Drug Treatment and Youth Services Inc. Executive Director Connie Wille, Plattsburgh City Police Officer Chris Clark and Northeast Group President and CEO Michael Carpenter after the film.

“It’s really huge to have people be really exposed to reality,” said Peters, who will emcee the forum.

“Nobody has a magic pill, but we have to at least do something to reduce substance abuse.”

Bernardi said SPARCC hopes to have around 500 people at the event, though the theater can hold as many as 900.


SPARCC also wants “to offer outreach and education services to all county school administrators and educators,” Trout said.

Peru Central School put on showings of “Chasing the Dragon” for its seventh- through 12-graders, parents and guardians Thursday, Peters said.

Schoolchildren as young as those in kindergarten are affected by opiate addiction, Trout said.

As a result, Peters said, they may end up placed with relatives because their parents are incarcerated or seeking treatment.

Dr. Kent Hall is vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer at University of Vermont Health Network, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital.

He said the hope with exposing schoolchildren to the realities of the opiate epidemic is that it will encourage in-depth dialogue among students and their family members and combat stigma.


The coalition supports Project Exchange, offered through the Alliance for Positive Health, as an intervention initiative.

As of March, the alliance reported 259 people enrolled in the program; 384,000 syringes collected, plus another 12,000 from public drop boxes; 111 Narcan reversals; and eight people engaged in treatment, Trout said.

The SPARCC coalition backs the safe disposal of prescription drugs and plans to promote the United Way’s 2-1-1 helpline, which can connect people struggling with addiction, their family members and loved ones with resources they need.

And the coalition hopes to reinstate substance abuse education at Clinton County Jail, Trout said.


On the treatment end, SPARCC is looking to deploy peer recovery coaches at the CVPH Emergency Department.

“Peer recovery coaches are individuals with lived experience trained to help others in need,” Trout said.

“It’s an evidence-based approach that reduces the likelihood of relapse.”

Since the community often only sees the opiate problem in the number of associated arrests and hospitalizations, SPARCC wants to glamorize recovery and eliminate stigma, emphasizing that addiction can happen to anybody, Trout said.

Close to 200 people are on SPARCC’s email list, Trout said, and 45 to 50 attend any given coalition meeting.

Those wishing to get involved can reach out to SPARCC via Facebook or contact any of the local providers involved.

Email Cara Chapman:


Twitter: @PPR_carachapman


"Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict" will be screened at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, at the Strand Center for the Arts, Brinkerhoff Street, Plattsburgh.

A panel featuring a person in recovery, family members who have lost a loved one to addiction, local law enforcement, a local business professional and members of substance abuse treatment and the State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services will follow.

The event is free and open to the public.