By MORGAN FRISCH
Recorder News Staff
Catholic Charities of Fulton and Montgomery Counties has been awarded funding to help prevent and reduce the likelihood of opioid use and prescription drug abuse among youth.
The funding, which will be $100,000 annually for two years, was awarded through the Opioid State Targeted Response grant program administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to a Catholic Charities news release. The new program will serve Fulton, Herkimer, Montgomery, and Schoharie counties.
Catholic Charities applied for the funds last spring in order to provide services to unserved or underserved communities.
“We’re excited about this new project,” Catholic Charities Executive Director John Nasso said. “It fits in well with the substance abuse services we currently provide throughout Fulton and Montgomery counties. If this project can help alleviate the opioid crisis in our communities and save lives, it would be a great success.”
The funding is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to expand critical initiatives in New York’s ongoing effort to confront the opioid epidemic that is gripping the nation, according to the release.
Funding will be used to add and enhance treatment services for people struggling with opioid use disorders in high-need counties throughout the state and will also support statewide prevention and recovery programs.
Catholic Charities Youth Services Program Director Denise Benton said the funding will be used to deliver evidence-based prevention services for underserved and hard to reach youth or other at-risk populations. She said the program will focus on youth in middle and high school.
“We had to identify locations that we felt could be a good start to provide this evidence-based prevention programing,” Benton said. “We are really looking at Gloversville, Amsterdam, the St. Johnsville, Fort Plain, Canajoharie area and Cobleskill.”
Benton said this does not mean they will not expand to other areas. To begin, Catholic Charities personnel would like to start with locations where they know there are issues after discussing it with first responders, police and other organizations.
“Since we are very familiar with this area, we said let’s start here and we will expand our services out as we see fit,” she said.
Benton explained the evidence based-curriculum by listing several programs such as Teen Intervene, Sport and Too Good For Drugs. Teen Intervene, she said, provides a pathway for youth ages 12 to 19 and their families who identify as dealing with substance abuse, but might not need treatment.
She also mentioned the Strengthening Families Program, which is for parents to set “the foundation for their child’s moral compass and sense of order.”
Too Good for Drugs, which is already running in some of the districts, is intended to help youth delay the onset of first use or aid them in reducing the current use of drugs, alcohol and other substances.
“It’s not going to completely take it away, but it is definitely going to help pull that onset back or at least help them to reduce risk,” Benton said.
Although Catholic Charities does have prevention education staff that works in many schools within Fulton and Montgomery counties, these programs are to be held after school, in the evenings or on weekends.
“They really want us to go find these underserved, unserved, hard to reach populations and we need to meet them where they’re at,” Benton said. “ When they are really struggling, some kids don’t want to come to school. We’ve got to try and find them and locate them and that’s going to take all of our community resources to work together to really identify kids who could benefit from these kind of prevention services.”
Benton said they will also be providing information for families and youth should they need any treatment services.
Catholic Charities is looking to employ a full-time staff member to be responsible for running the evidence based-curriculum program. Benton will still take part and oversee the process.
She said by early next month they would like to hold a key stakeholders meeting. This meeting will invite people from around the areas where they plan to provide services. Benton said they would like to discuss how they can collaborate together to help locate the youth who need assistance.
“It’s not one person that’s going to make a difference,” she said. “It’s really all of us in our community that are going to need to come together and make a difference.”
In the first year, Benton is hopeful to work with about 150 youth in middle to high school that are struggling.
“We are hoping that out of that, somebody gets somwe good information that helps them or their family or provides them with a little bit of hope or positivity and takes them from really going down one path and ending up in a much better place,” she said. “Really, if we can do that, if we can affect one or two people that way, I think we are doing a really good job.”
Benton said the second goal is to make sure there is collaboration within the community. She said she wants everyone to be delivering the same message and supporting one another.
“It’s important that we do that, it’s important that we all come together because these kids are our future,” Benton said. “They are the next you and me and so we want them to have a healthy opportunity to get into the next place that they are going to be and be those leaders that we would love to see them become.”