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Thursday, May 7, 2015
A panel of experts on heroin and opiate addiction talked with and fielded questions from the community Wednesday night at Lockport High School. From left, are Kevin Newman, Bill Watson, Joe Claypool, Laura Jowly, Jessica Sherman and Mark Sanders. Not pictured is LPD Chief Larry Eggert. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS)

By +Scott Leffler

About 40 people turned out for a forum Wednesday evening on heroin and opiate addiction at Lockport High School — hoping to find a cure for what ails the city.

Jessica Sherman of Kids Escaping Drugs talks
with an audience of about 40 Wednesday night
at Lockport High School.
One of six panelists for the evening — Jessica Sherman from Kids Escaping Drugs — summed it up: "If we don't come together as a community we're never going to stop this epidemic."

The entire panel agreed that the crisis has reached a level of being an epidemic.

Laura Jowly, director of the outpatient chemical dependency program at Horizon Health Services, said that there were 1,950 drug-related deaths in Niagara County in 2012. Of those, nearly half — 914 — were from opiates.

"Every family is affected by this," said Lockport Police Chief Larry Eggert.

"We're working out best to try to combat this," said LPD Det. Kevin Newman. "But it's totally out of control."

The problem with opiate addiction is multi-pronged, panelists said, starting with the fact that it's easy to obtain, easy to use, and doesn't come with the stigma of other drugs.

Jowly explained people often get addicted to opiates — like Oxycontin — because they're prescribed it from a doctor or get it for free from a family member to deal with pain. Often innocent use then turns into what's meant to be recreational drug use. Then the user runs out and they need a substitute.

"Prescription drugs are very expensive to buy," said Eggert. "But heroin is not."

Newman, also a member of the Niagara County Drug Task Force, concurred. "They become addicted to opiates and then they turn to heroin, which is much cheaper."

From there, the addict will run out of money for heroin and start to steal in order to support their addiction. Their number one source to steal from: family.

Lockport Police Chief Larry Eggert is a fan of the city's
drug court — for the way it can turn addicts' lives around.
"Once they become addicted, they're not the same person," Eggert said.

City Court Judge Bill Watson called family "the first line of defense."

Presiding over the city's drug court, Watson has a unique view of drug addiction. He said there's a stigma attached to the word "addiction," but added, "what I've learned over the years is 'addicts are us.' They're our friends. They're our relatives. They're our neighbors."

In explaining drug court, Watson asked the audience to look at addiction as a disease and drug court as part of the treatment. He said that using a court as advocacy or an intervention method may go against what people view the court system to do — but it works.

Even Eggert said he was originally skeptical of drug court until he saw it in action and saw the benefits from it. Now he wants to get addicts into drug court. "If you have a family member that's addicted, let us arrest them."

The 90-minute forum was moderated by Mark Sanders, LPD's community policing aide, or as he said, "a civilian on the inside." Following presentations from the panelists, Sanders opened the floor to questions from the audience, most of what could be summed up as, "how can we help?"

Sanders said one way to help is to call the police when something seems askew — whether that something is with a loved one who isn't acting right or a neighbor who has more in-and-out traffic than seems normal. Giving law enforcement an "in" will help to clear up neighborhood blight and may save that loved one from an addiction.

Joe Claypool, resource coordinator for treatment in the Lockport courts, agreed. "Police are telling you to call in with tips. Drug dealers are counting on you not to."

And if that can happen?

"Hopefully the community will see some results real soon," Det. Newman said.

Lockport City Court Judge Bill Watson explains what drug court is and how it works.

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