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Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse

October 8, 2020 - 1:13pm

COVID-19 is not about to stop the GOW Opioid Task Force from continuing its vision of collaboration and engagement leading to a community free from opioid-related deaths and overdoses.

Task Force Coordinator Christen Ferraro today announced that the group will conduct its first virtual quarterly meeting from 9:30 to 11 a.m. on Oct. 22 via Zoom videoconferencing.

“Now, more than ever, it is important we continue the conversation surrounding the opioid crisis,” Ferraro said. “This new virtual setting of our quarterly meeting will help us to do that and reach even more of the communities across our tri-county region.”

Ferraro said the meeting will focus on the topic of non-opioid alternatives to pain management.

“Two local professionals have agreed to share their knowledge on this topic with an opportunity for questions to follow,” she said. “This meeting is open to the public and the community is invited to learn more on this topic and share any questions they may have.”

To register, visit www.gowopioidtaskforce.org for more details. Once registered, a confirmation email will be sent with Zoom information and a link to join.

The task force, serving Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties, currently has more than 350 members from across the tri-county region.

Members represent various sectors of the community, including public health, mental health, human services, local government, substance use disorder treatment and recovery agencies, law enforcement, emergency medical services, faith-based groups, health systems and medical practitioners, education, businesses, concerned individuals, families, and individuals in recovery.

Disclosure: Story by Mike Pettinella. GCASA publicist.

October 3, 2020 - 9:51am

John (last name withheld) is a 50-year-old long distance truck driver who has been out of work for some time due to a 20-year addiction to alcohol.

He’s also someone who has found renewed hope and strength toward living the remainder of his days in sobriety through his participation in recovery programs offered by Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.

Originally from Corning and most recently a resident of Saratoga Springs, John has found himself in the Batavia area and, as a result, things are looking up for him for the first time in decades.

“I have had a problem with alcohol for my whole life,” he said while taking part in a special game day and potluck dinner recently at The Recovery Station, GCASA’s social gathering place on Clinton Street Road.

John said he was taking too much time off work “because all I really wanted to do was sit around and drink all day.”

He was able to gather the wherewithal to get into a 28-day program and was referred to a local residential facility to continue the recovery process.

He Hasn't Had a Drink in Six Months

“They referred me for a little bit of aftercare, and I’m glad that I did it,” he said. “It was the best thing that I did in my life because I haven’t had a drink in six months. That’s the longest that I’ve been without a drink in probably for 20 years.”

John said that the counselors at the residence, which houses several people in recovery, helped him tremendously.

“I’m the type of person that likes to isolate a lot and everybody over there is really open and they make me feel very comfortable. I feel that I can talk to them about any mood that I am in or anything that I am feeling throughout the day,” he explained.

He then mentioned the importance of The Recovery Station in his efforts to remain sober.

“This place has been a godsend,” he said. “You can come here and work out as they’ve invested in exercise equipment and they have many different activities throughout the week if you look at the calendar.”

John said the certified peer recovery advocates at The Recovery Station are “good listeners who have helped me considerably.”

Social Gathering Place Fills a Gap

“From what I hear because I’m not from here, this area needed a place like this, and I think that everything that GCASA is doing for this city as far as recovery goes is wonderful,” he said. “Really, I can’t give this place enough accolades.”

The Recovery Station is meeting the need for him to treat “mind, body and spirit,” John said.

“I had the mental support and counseling support, but I always wanted to have a place to come and play games and work out. It has made a huge difference thus far,” he said.

John’s downward spiral with alcohol started when he was 13 years old and hanging out with some older boys.

“It was peer pressure from the bigger kids. They said that if I would carry their beer to the campsite – we used to go camping in the woods – then they would let me drink with them,” he recalled. “That’s what got me started but what kept me drinking was that I always had a self-esteem problem. I got picked on a lot when I was a kid as I had buckteeth and was kind of skinny.”

He said that when he “found alcohol, it took that all away.”

“It takes the inhibitions away. It makes you fit in. You don’t really care what other people say about you. It just makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. That’s what kept me drunk my whole life,” he shared.

Alcohol Catches Up to You over Time

In time, the effect of alcoholism reared its ugly head.

“As you get older, your body starts to wear down and it can’t process (the alcohol) anymore and it starts to affect your health,” he said. “For me, when I start to drink in excess, it makes me very unmotivated. I’ve never been really fired from a job, but I always have quit because I didn’t want to go to work or I didn’t show up to work.”

John said he realized that he was traveling down the wrong road.

“At my last job, I knew that drinking and driving don’t mix but also I didn’t have any desire or energy to go to work because the alcohol takes all of your energy away and makes you not care about anything,” he said.

Divorced with a son, John said alcoholism didn’t cause the marital split, but admits it didn’t make things easier. Still, he is grateful for having a relationship with his son and says his self-esteem and health are improving since he stopped drinking.

However, he is aware that the battle to overcome the disease is far from over.

Support is a Key to Sobriety

“It’s a struggle if I don’t have support around me,” he said. “My whole life, and I don’t know if it’s a man thing or an ego thing, but I’ve always had a hard time accepting help from other people. I’ve always wanted to do everything on my own.”

John said he’s made a conscious effort to accept help from others and to get involved in social activities.

“That’s what has kept me from wanting to drink again,” he said.

He also spoke about how alcohol triggered the depression that has buffeted him.

“Depression is a side effect of alcoholism, for sure. A lot of people use alcohol to stop their depression, which helps for a little while,” he offered. “But then, as you get into the disease and you start to rely on it, it compounds the depression and makes it worse than it was before. It absolutely turns on you. Then the depression doubles and triples.”

John said he’s working through some issues and seeking to develop a support system and a sponsor – with the goal of being in a position to help others.

“I’m making good progress at that. I just don’t have a complete plan in place to be able to help somebody else right now but I can see that coming in the near future,” he said. “I’ve been doing a really good job about taking advice. People say the only way you can keep your sobriety is by giving it back to others and helping others. I do see that as being my long term solution to keeping my sobriety.”

Disclosure: Story by Mike Pettinella, GCASA publicist.

July 9, 2020 - 8:15pm

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Genesee County planners tonight recommended approval of a site plan application from Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse to tack on a two-story, 20-bed detoxification center to the agency’s Atwater House residential facility at 424 E. Main St.

The new 8,788-square-foot addition of the medically supervised detox center enhances GCASA’s ability to treat people afflicted with substance dependency who are seeking support and recovery.

“The great thing about this project is that it allows for the continuum of care,” said Raymond Murphy, representing the Orchard Park architectural firm of Fontanese Folts Aubrecht Ernst on behalf of GCASA.

The detox center will be constructed as a two-story, wood-framed building attached to the southern end of Atwater House. It will consist of 16 beds serving state regulations for medically supervised detoxification and four transitional residential beds (similar to those available at Atwater House).

Murphy pointed out that the architecture is “in kind to what is already on campus .. the proposed volume is two stories to match and fit in nicely with the existing volumes.” He added that clapboard siding and roofing materials similar to those already on Atwater House will be used.

Earlier today, GCASA Executive Director John Bennett said the new configuration will streamline the delivery of services to those in need.

“Operationally, the Atwater residence and the new 816.7 facility (denoting the Office of Addiction Services and Supports Part 816.7 regulation) will benefit from close proximity to one another,” Bennett said. “This will offer more flexibility, comfort and support to clients in transitioning to a residential program – a key component in the continuum of care.”

Bennett said overdose rates have increased significantly due to the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid epidemic.

“Addiction is a disease of isolation and the pandemic has certainly isolated people from being able to attend self-help meetings, group counseling and other forms of support,” he said. “When you couple people in early recovery with isolation, the odds of relapse become increased. We need short-term medical detox more than ever in our communities.”

A letter from the architect to the planning board indicated that the proposed location of the addition is fairly open and will require the removal of about 10 trees directly within the building and parking footprint.

It also noted that a new 13-space parking lot will be added, increasing the total number of spaces to 113 (including 18 of them leased from Cornell Cooperative Extension to the west).

Plans call for the first floor of the detox center to house the “communal” functions of the building such as dining, serving, group rooms, intake and employee offices, while the second story will be split into two wings, each of which will contain four shared bedrooms (two beds each) and a bathroom.

The center block – situated between the wings – contains a central lounge, client laundry and nursing/physician spaces.

The $3.6 million addition is being funded by OASAS capital projects and will create 20 or more new permanent jobs -- nurses, counselors and support staff -- as well as several temporary construction jobs, Bennett said.

Planning Board Member Tom Schubmehl called the detox center “a welcome addition to the community … relatives and friends who have had to go for any help have had to go a long ways to get there. So, it is nice that GCASA is doing this.”

Bennett said that the proposal and architectural renderings previously were reviewed by the City Planning & Development Committee.

“They loved the way we designed it in that we made sure that it flowed with the existing Atwater House,” Bennett said. “Overall, the response was very favorable.”

The City PDC is expected to make a final ruling on the site plan at its July 21 meeting.

In other action, planners recommended:

-- Approval of a special use permit site plan and downtown design review application from V.J. Gautieri Constructors Inc., to create 10 apartments on the second floor of the Save-A-Lot building at 45-47 Ellicott St.

A previous story of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative project, known as Ellicott Place, appeared on Wednesday.

Planners’ approval suggested that future development of ground floor commercial space address access and activation of the south elevation toward Ellicott Street, and that the applicant apply for 9-1-1 address verification with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department to meet Enhanced 9-1-1 standards.

The DRI award was for $1.15 million; the balance of the $2.3 million venture will be funded through a loan with a financial institution, said Victor Gautieri, president of the Batavia company that owns the building.

In response to a question from Schubmehl about Save-A-Lot parking lot disruption during construction, Gautieri said crews will be operating for the most part within the east parking lot where most of the Save-A-Lot employees park their vehicles.

“We will be working in conjunction with those folks to make sure they still have access to the loading dock and make sure they have access to their side doors,” he said. “Save-A-Lot has been a tenant for quite some time and we have a good relationship with them.”

Gautieri said store management is “welcoming the redevelopment of the building and believe it’s going to enhance their sales.”

He said Save-A-Lot is planning a facelift of its own – “with new signage and reorientation within the store to freshen it up.”

Previously, Gautieri said the renovation will give the Ellicott Street neighborhood a long overdue modern look.

“When Ellicott Station (across the street) comes to be, it will complementary to ours and ours to theirs,” he said. “Hopefully, we will be able to attract some businesses that are not in Batavia now, which would be very good for the downtown area.”

-- Approval of a special use permit for Krista Lewis, on behalf of the Hesperus Lodge #837, to convert the first story of the historic building at 12 S. Lake Ave. (Route 19) in Bergen from a hair salon (Radiant Hair Designs) to a laundromat with micro-salon rentals.

In documents submitted to the planning board, Lewis indicated that she plans to install six washers and six dryers for the startup. The proposal calls for the laundromat to be open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Additionally, three spaces are being set up for hair stylists to rent.

-- Approval of a site plan review submitted by Russ Walker to operate a candy shop in an existing commercial building at 21 Main St., Oakfield, location of the former Warner’s Flower Shop.

Approved as a gift shop in March, the operator is looking to add a 20-foot by 40-foot addition to the rear of the building. The addition would house a commercial kitchen, storage space and renovated bathroom.

According to plan documents, the new construction would be a pole barn design, with steel siding similar to the building on the other side of the municipal parking lot.

-- Approval of zoning text amendments to address solar energy systems and battery energy storage systems for the entire Town of Alabama.

Planning Director Felipe Oltramari said Alabama is the first local municipality to put battery energy storage systems into its zoning code, noting that he considers these primarily as standalone “accessories” to solar systems.

July 9, 2020 - 11:43am

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Whether they were spending time at their Albion home or on the job at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Albion residents Nick and Cyndi Mardino are grateful for the opportunity to share their experiences together.

The Mardinos retired at the end of May after long careers at GCASA, primarily at the Albion clinic on East Avenue but also at the Batavia campus on East Main Street.

Cyndi began employment there in 2000, the last 18 or so years as the agency’s customer service supervisor, while Nick started in 2005, first as a part-time maintenance man while he worked his full-time job as a corrections officer at Orleans Correctional Facility and then, over the past year, in a full-time role.

Driven by a mindset focused upon togetherness and teamwork, and guided by a strong faith in God, the Mardinos made a tremendous impact upon GCASA staff and clients, alike.

“Both Cyndi and Nick were excellent employees. They always went above and beyond their job duties, and they were loyal and dedicated to GCASA,” said Kathy S. Hodgins, chief clinical officer, a close friend of Cyndi.

Hodgins said Cyndi, as support staff supervisor, “treated her staff with respect and valued each one of them,” while Nick made sure “the building and grounds in Albion were always immaculate.”

Interviewed by telephone on Wednesday, the Mardinos said that working at GCASA has been “a blessing” and while they miss the work, they miss their colleagues and clients even more.

“I have enjoyed my experience with GCASA and getting to know so many people who over the years had become like family to me,” Cyndi said. “I have enjoyed working with the front staff and Beth Collee and Rachel Patten were the most amazing people to work with and they were family to me. The front office team was a joy and I was very sad to leave.”

Nick, an Air Force veteran, said his time at GCASA was “a pleasure,” and he especially enjoyed taking on all kinds of projects with coworkers Jeff Helenbrook and Ron Hall.

And they said it was extra special to be able to interact with each other at different times.

“We always worked well together, so if somebody needed something, I would say, ‘Nick, can you do this?’ Or if one of the counselors needed something done, I would ask him and he’d always take care of it.”

Cyndi said people would ask her how she could work with her husband and then go home. “I would say, ‘You know what? He’s my best friend.’ ”

Nick agreed, simply stating, “We do everything together.”

Cyndi believes that working at GCASA was meant to be.

“Kathy (Hodgins) always said 'you’re here for a reason,' ” she said. “Because I grew up in an alcoholic family and my first husband was an alcoholic, so there’s always a reason.”

The Mardinos were always quick with a smile and a word of encouragement, traits of their outgoing personalities.

“I always enjoyed talking to the patients because you wanted to have a good rapport with them. I told the staff -- my team – ‘Listen guys, they’re walking in here and a lot of times that first step is the hardest to do.’ When they walk in that door, they have to be treated as a human being,” Cyndi said. “They have problems and we can’t help them with that, but we can be that smiling face – that person who could be there if they have questions or if they just need someone to smile at them.”

The Mardinos were looking to retire a couple years down the road, but changed their plans, opting to close the full-time employment chapter of their lives at the young Social Security ages of 62 (Nick) and 63.

“God intervened and we said it was time,” Cyndi said.

They had anticipated to take a cross-country trip this summer, but that’s on hold due to the coronavirus.

Still, they said they have plenty of projects around the house, are welcoming family members (they have three grown children and six grandkids), love the time with Bella, their chocolate Labrador retriever, and soon hope to be able to visit Nick’s mother who is in a nursing home.

The Mardinos met as a result of a blind date 33 years ago and were married in 1993. Cyndi lived in California, Oklahoma, Texas and Maine before returning to her hometown of Albion to stay. Nick is a native of North Collins in Erie County.

GCASA Executive Director John Bennett tried to keep the Mardinos on a bit longer, but that wasn’t in the cards. He did, however, manage to convince them to stay on as “per diem” employees.

So, in a pinch, GCASA employees may be able to share some moments with Cyndi and Nick once again – giving the Mardinos another chance to express their well-wishes, thanks and appreciation for two decades of service.

DISCLOSURE: Story written by Mike Pettinella, GCASA publicist.

February 28, 2020 - 4:38pm

If, as Ben Franklin so wisely stated, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” then the Prevention Department at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse is a heavyweight in the effort to keep young and old alike from the ever-present dangers of alcohol and drugs.

“We offer cradle-to-grave services, from in-school programs to moms who are pregnant to seniors dealing with prescription drug management,” said Sherri Bensley, GCASA’s assistant director of prevention. “Our philosophy is based on prevention science – programs that are research-based, data-driven and outcome-focused.”

Bensley, a Medina resident with 15 years of prevention education experience under her belt, outlined the various services provided by the GCASA Prevention team, a group of seven educators and a secretary that serves Genesee and Orleans counties.

And she is quick to express her appreciation for the employees she supervises.

“Our collaboration is fantastic,” she said. “Really, it’s the best prevention staff in the world. They are passionate about their work and are good at what they do.”

And that dedication is fueled by the commitment that Bensley has made as a GCASA employee -- starting as a prevention educator in Orleans County, coordinator of the highly successful Responsible Server Training and Children of Addiction programs, and assistant director for two years in Orleans before being promoted to her current position.

“I’m motivated by the opportunity to help a young person or family stay clear of the problems caused by alcohol, tobacco and drug use and, beyond that, playing a role – whether big or small – in seeing people break free from substance use or addiction,” she said.

Toward that end, Bensley pointed to around a dozen different programs that GCASA offers.

Too Good for Drugs and Too Good for Violence target elementary and middle school pupils; SPORT, a one-on-one classroom initiative, focuses upon high school students’ overall wellness.

Teen Intervene is a fee-based program that assists school teachers and administrators in getting youth back on track after problems arise due to alcohol and drug use, and Active Parenting Now and Active Parenting for Teens help parents cope and manage difficult situations.

Other Prevention programs include the following:

-- Accountability Circles: Based on restorative justice principles, this program serves youth who are ticketed for underage drinking or break their school’s code of conduct. They provide education regarding the dangers of drinking and drug use, as well as allow participants to hear community members explain how they are affected by underage substance use.

-- Children of Addictions Support Group: A free program for children ages 6-16 whose lives have been hindered by a family member’s or caretaker’s use of alcohol or other drugs. Participants attend sessions over six weeks aimed to helping them develop healthy coping skills and understand the disease of addiction.

-- DWI Victim Impact Panel: Open to anyone convicted of DWI offenses in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties, fee-for-service VIP sessions feature volunteer speakers who address the consequences of what happens when people drink alcohol and get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.

-- Responsible Server Training: This is a three-hour fee-for-service class, certified by the New York State Liquor Authority that educates employees of bars, restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores, liquor stores and other establishments that sell or serve alcoholic beverages.

“We have been offering this for quite some time and have trained hundreds of employees all across the state,” Bensley said. “Owners of establishments that sell or serve alcohol understand the severity of serving to a minor or serving someone who is visibly intoxicated.”

GCASA’s Prevention staff also promotes several “environmental strategies” that are designed to reach the community as a whole, instead of centering upon individuals. These include the Underage Drinking Tipline (1-800-851-1932), Project Sticker Shock (putting warning labels on cases of beer, for example) and placing Red Ribbon Week literature in schools and banners along city streets.

Currently, GCASA has contracts with seven schools – Batavia, Byron-Bergen, Oakfield-Alabama, Notre Dame/St. Joseph’s, Le Roy, Medina and Lyndonville – and “are always looking to join forces with more schools,” Bensley said.

Regardless of its contract status, GCASA conducts Prevention Needs Assessment surveys in all Genesee County schools and in four Orleans County schools every two years in an attempt to gauge the incidence and prevalence of alcohol, drug and tobacco use among students.

“The PNA survey is an evidence-based endeavor, and we keep track of the results for several years,” Bensley explained. “We also encourage feedback and set up focus groups as required by the state Office of Addiction Services and Supports.

GCASA’s Prevention department has expanded its services in recent years to deal with the heroin epidemic, starting a free opioid overdose prevention training to help people learn to recognize signs of an opioid overdose, understand steps to be taken to prevent death, and learn how to administer naloxone (NARCAN training) to reverse an opioid overdose.

While Bensley touts her staff’s commitment as the key to numerous success stories, she said one of the biggest challenges is making the public aware that “we’re out there – that we’re on the second floor (of the GCASA campus at 430 E. Main St.)” as well as having a distinct presence at the Albion office, in several school districts and throughout the community.

“That, along with funding and parental involvement, is one of the hardest hurdles,” she said. “Educating parents is sometimes very difficult, because they’re busy. But the most dangerous thing is when a parent says, ‘Not my kid.’ For every parent who says that, there’s a kid who is struggling.”

For more information about GCASA’s Prevention services, contact Bensley at 585-331-8742 or send an email to [email protected].

Photo at top:

GCASA PREVENTION TEAM: Assistant Director of Prevention Sherri Bensley (middle) is surrounded by her team at GCASA, from left, Diana Fulcomer, Communications & Development Director Shannon Ford, Christen Ferraro, Carol Nicometo, Kristen Gombos, Diane Klos, Sheila Harding and Elizabeth Novak.

Disclosure: Story by Mike Pettinella, GCASA publicist.

November 23, 2019 - 1:00pm

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The success of individuals and organizations working to prevent drug and alcohol use in the teen and young adult population hinges upon having access to science-based statistics that reveal current trends. All too often, however, misinformation and misconceptions cloud the landscape and hamper attempts to achieve effective change.

In an effort to give community coalitions the best chance to reach their goals of reducing drug, alcohol and tobacco use among middle school, high school and college students, the NYS Office of Addiction Supports and Services have placed six “prevention resource centers” around the state.

One of those centers is the Western New York Prevention Resource Center and its office is located at the Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse’s main campus at 430 E. Main St. in Batavia.

The WNY PRC, under the direction of Sharon Koenig since 2013, assists community coalitions in the eight counties of Western New York (Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming, Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Niagara and Erie), providing technical trainings and workshops, pertinent literature and the expertise of a Community Development Specialist.

Her staff includes Dawn Sagerman, senior community development specialist, and Sharon O’Neil, community development specialist assistant.

“We work with stakeholders in the development of new coalitions and support established community coalitions, with a focus on the Strategic Prevention Framework – a public health, outcome-based prevention approach,” Koenig said. “The SPF is a five-step, dynamic, data-driven approach that helps coalitions move toward the goal of reducing substance abuse, risky behaviors and consequences in their communities.”

Seven Points to Success

Koenig outlined the SPF’s seven areas that are fundamental to setting a coalition’s strategy:

  • Assessment: Collection of data to decide on the most pressing issue that can be successfully addressed with available resources, with three key components – identifying and understanding the population’s needs, determining necessary resources and assessing whether the community is ready to tackle the issue.
  • Capacity: Building the coalition (people, available finances, organizational chart) to carry out the plan to reduce substance use, including training and technical assistance provided by the PRC.
  • Planning: Developing a strategy (logic model) aimed at meeting community needs and creating community-level change.
  • Implementation: Putting the plan, strategies, programs, policies and practices into action.
  • Evaluation: Efforts are evaluated in terms of process, impact and outcome, with the results used to make ongoing adjustments and improvements.

The SPF has a pair of key concepts at its center and both must be incorporated into every step:

  1. Cultural Competence: Behaviors, attitudes and policies that enable coalitions to make a difference in culturally diverse environments;
  2. Coalition Sustainability: The capacity to keep the coalition going long enough to achieve its long-term goals.

Fueled By Scientific Data

Koenig said that while prevention providers (such as GCASA) primarily focus on change at the individual level, the WNYPRC in conjunction with community coalitions concentrates on environmental or broad-based strategies that can impact a large number of people.

“The PRC strives for policy change and reduction in the percentages of those using drugs, alcohol and tobacco based on scientific data,” she said. “Without the data, it’s just another person’s opinion.”

Another part of the PRC’s mission – one that is in the forefront of late – is managing and dispelling those opinions and misperceptions that can trigger strategies that fail to hit their intended targets.

Earlier this month, the WNYPRC sponsored a full-day training in Hamburg that centered upon using a social norms approach to successfully reducing youth risk behaviors.

About 50 people representing community coalitions, substance abuse prevention agencies, law enforcement, schools and the National Guard (a partner with the PRCs around the state) attended the presentation by H. Wesley Perkins, Ph.D., professor of Sociology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva.

Perkins is a leader in the “social norms approach” field, having conducted surveys of tens of thousands of college, high school and middle school students over the past two decades to evaluate how perceptions of drug and alcohol use compare to the reality of the same.

“Students misperceive their peers pretty badly,” said Perkins, backing up his claim with survey data that shows that students perceive that their peers are engaging in risky behavior much more than what the actual numbers show.

Not Everyone is Doing It

The numbers from a 1996 study of 5,000 students at a New York college show that the perception was that 89 percent of students drank alcohol twice a month and that 25 percent drank daily. The actual numbers revealed that 60 percent drank alcohol twice a month and that only 5 percent drank daily.

Similar outcomes were obtained when it came to marijuana use, hallucinogens and cocaine, said Perkins, who went on to provide several more examples of surveys that produced the same degree of misperception.

“The same phenomena occur time and time again,” he said. “For example, a survey showed that 25 to 30 percent engage in bullying. The perception is that it is 70 percent or more.”

Perkins said that a “naïve” response to the data would be that the problem isn’t that significant, but that misses the point. Rather, the best response, he said, is to devise strategies, such as traditional and social media campaigns, that reflect the reality of the situation.

“The causes of these misperceptions are psychological … we’re more accurate about our own situation than others’; social psychological … much of our conversation is focused on the extreme; and cultural … as entertainment, advertising, news and health advocacy media focus on the bad behavior of a small percentage,” he said.

Truth or Consequences

Perkins said the consequences of these misperceptions include a “reign of error” that controls our behavior, use and abuse increases if young people think it is expected of them, those in opposition to risky behavior are discourage from speaking out and intervention by others declines.

“The carriers of misperception contribute to the problem,” he said. “It is contagious.”

The most effective social norms model leads to a healthy dose of reality, Perkins said, and it incorporates identifying the actual vs. the misperceived, intervention, less exaggerated misperceptions and a focus on the “healthy majority.”

“Print media campaigns need to accentuate the actual norms – most aren’t engaging in the risky behavior – and then there needs to be peer education program and workshops for the targeted risk groups,” he said. “Beyond that, new student orientation presentations, counseling interventions, curriculum infusion and electronic multimedia are effective.”

Perkins and his colleagues have put his theory to the test, with encouraging positive results, he said.

In the first 18 months of one campaign, advancing positive messages such as “70 percent of us (students) don’t drink,” Perkins said surveys showed that: frequent heavy drinking dropped by 21 percent; property damage decreased by 36 percent; those missing class went down by 31 percent; unprotected sex decreased by 40 percent; and inefficient work fell by 25 percent.

Applying This to WNY

The professor said that these social norm techniques can be applied at various levels of education and to groups outside of the school settings, explaining that subsequent campaigns and surveys showed similar outcomes at several colleges and “across varied demographic profiles.”

“Social norms are most effective when there are clear, positive norm messages, credible data, the absence of competing scare messages, a high dosage of message, multiple strategies and a broad student population,” Perkins said.

Koenig said this is important to the mission of the WNYPRC, which can use the information from Perkins’ presentation to help move the needle in areas of concern for local coalitions.

“The fact that Dr. Perkins stressed getting good data, specific to the intended target audience, meshes well with the objectives of the PRC,” she said. “Obtaining a representative sample size and conducting surveys on a regular basis, and specifying frequency of use, quantity consumed, the context of consumption, the negative consequences and the protective behaviors are factors that we can address.”

To learn more about social norms, go to alcoholeducationproject.org or youthhealthsafety.org.

More information about the WNY PRC can be obtained here, or by sending an email to Koenig at [email protected].

Photo at top: WNY Prevention Resource Center staff, from left, Sharon O'Neil, Sharon Koenig and Dawn Sagerman, with Prof. H. Wesley Perkins.

Disclosure: Story written by Mike Pettinella, GCASA publicist.

June 20, 2019 - 1:06pm

bennett.jpgRebuffed by the City of Batavia, the leader of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse is “moving in a different direction” to find a location for an activities gathering place for recovering addicts.

GCASA Executive Director John Bennett said today that he is looking at sites in the Town of Batavia, specifically mentioning the former Bohn’s Restaurant on Clinton Street Road, to house what he calls a “recovery recreation center.”

“It would be a place where those dealing with drug and alcohol addiction would receive support through social, recreational, fitness and sober living activities by connecting with peers, friends and family who both accept them and understand their situation,” Bennett said. “It all fits in with our pledge to try and save lives.”

GCASA’s attempt to place the recovery center in the former North Pole Restaurant (prior to that, the St. Nicholas Social Club) at 241-243 South Swan St. was met with strong opposition last month, both from City Council members and people living in that neighborhood.

Subsequently, City officials sent a letter to Bennett stating that since the area is zoned R-2 Residential, it would not be a good fit for the recovery center.

Bennett said GCASA has decided against any further action involving the City, other than asking City Manager Martin Moore if he could find another use for the building or help the agency find a buyer.

“We had to buy the building – there is no 'out clause' – so we’re hoping that it could be used for something else, maybe for teens,” said Bennett, noting that the Swan Street property does have variances for philanthropic and restaurant uses.

Contacted by phone today, Moore said that he will be talking to members of his staff, primarily those involved with economic development, about the use and/or sale of the building, but had “nothing definitive” to report at this time.

With South Swan Street out of the picture, Bennett has turned to the Town of Batavia. He said he met with the Town Board on Wednesday, and came away encouraged -- looking forward to getting something done sooner rather than later.

“The Town Board was amazing; very insightful and kind, and displayed an understanding of addiction,” Bennett said.

He said that he has looked at a couple commercial sites and the industrial park (in the Town). The former Bohn’s Restaurant is zoned Commercial, a plus for this type of project.

A sign on the wall has the selling price at $250,000, but GCASA has not put in an offer yet, Bennett said, adding that the agency’s goal is to purchase a building.

Bennett provided this reporter with a flier listing examples of events and activities at the proposed recovery center.

They include community cleanup and community garden projects; fitness activities (yoga, hikes, runs, biking, basketball, martial arts); art classes; peer support; cooking and nutrition classes; mutual aid and self-help meetings; games and live music, and special events during holidays.

“We have set up a CRPA (Certified Recovery Peer Advocate) program through the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, and currently have 18 of them trained (to assist recovering addicts),” he said. “We also have relationships with hospitals in both counties and with the jails through the PAARI program (Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative).”

Statistics offered by Bennett show that Genesee County has one of the highest opioid overdose rates in the state and is high on the list of deaths due to drug/alcohol abuse with 34 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017.

OASAS extended a grant to GCASA for the recovery center, and is working with the local agency to push back the deadline, which originally was set at July 1, Bennett said.

While disappointed in the City’s stance regarding the South Swan Street location, Bennett said he's more upset by comments made by some residents about those afflicted with serious alcohol and drug problems.

“The unfortunate thing is how they painted a picture of people in recovery … things like they will lower our property values and we won’t be able to let our children out,” he said. “These are people like you and I. Some of my closest friends are in long-term recovery and they’re great people.

“Since then, I have received a lot of phone calls from people in recovery on the Southside – and they want their neighbors, who aren’t aware of their situations, to know they are good people.”

Photo: John Bennett, GCASA executive director

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