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GOW opioid task force

UConnectCare hires coordinator to lead GOW Opioid Task Force

By Press Release

Press release:

Submitted photo of Jay Baran.

UConnectCare (formerly Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse) has hired Jay Baran as the coordinator of the GOW Opioid Task Force.

Baran, 26, is responsible for overseeing the three-county – Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming – volunteer organization that is dedicated to saving lives by reducing overdoses and overdose deaths.

A graduate of St. Mary’s of Lancaster, Baran earned a bachelor’s degree in Public Health with a minor in Biology from SUNY Brockport in 2022. She replaces Christen Foley, who accepted the position of project director of the Western New York Prevention Resource Center, a program of UConnectCare.

In her role as coordinator, Baran will provide assistance to the task force’s six work groups – steering committee, access to care, data, community education, law enforcement, and family, loved ones, and allies. She also will be setting up quarterly meetings and events, with Overdose Awareness Day on August 28 next on the schedule.

“I have a passion for public health and am grateful to be able to serve in that capacity (with UConnectCare),” she said. “The GOW Opioid Task Force has made quite an impact over the past several years and I am looking forward to the initiatives that lie ahead.”

Baran served as a camp counselor for Just for Kids in Orchard Park before taking a position with Citibank in Buffalo for a year. Last year, she managed the social media account and coordinated a team of volunteers at Uplift Irondequoit, a coalition that supports programs and activities related to prevention, education, and reduction of youth substance use.

For more information about the GOW Opioid Task Force, contact Baran a or at 585-815-1863.

GO Health encourages 'MOUD' as viable treatment for opioid use disorder

By Press Release

Press Release:

No matter who we are or where we come from, we all know at least one person affected by opioid use disorder (OUD). An estimated 2.1 million Americans have OUD 1. 

Since 2019, there have been 57 fatal opioid overdoses in Genesee County, with additional deaths still pending official causes of death. What many don’t realize is that OUD is a medical disorder characterized by an inability to stop the use of an opioid, despite the negative consequences associated with its use.

HEALing Genesee is committed to reducing opioid overdose deaths. Many families are broken and lives are disrupted due to misuse of opioids. Research findings are clear: medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) are the single most effective tool to promote long-term recovery.

Recovery from OUD also requires more than willpower, and medications can be part of the solution. Three FDA approved medications – methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone – can lower the risk of relapse and overdose.

Evidence shows that these medications reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms (methadone, buprenorphine), blunt or block effects of illicit opioids (methadone, naltrexone, buprenorphine), and reduce or eliminate cravings to use opioids (methadone, buprenorphine). 

MOUD treatment can be combined with psychotherapy, support groups, or other treatment opportunities where available. To reduce overdose deaths and the many other destructive effects of opioid use disorder on our community, we must increase the number of people who seek MOUD treatment and who stay in treatment long enough to

A HEALing Communities Study spokesperson, Johnny, has been taking MOUD for over 5 years as part of his recovery path. During an interview led by study staff, Johnny provided some ways for how he overcame treatment barriers. “At the beginning there were many people who didn’t believe in MOUD.” 

He noted there were many people in his life who believed MOUD was just substituting one drug for another, but it’s not. He says, “Don’t give up. This [MOUD] works. If it doesn’t work for you the first time, try again. Be honest with yourself and your counselors and the people trying to help you. It is your treatment and your recovery. Stay in treatment, your life is worth it!”

You Can Help HEAL our Communities 

How can you help? If you know someone with opioid use disorder, encourage them to seek MOUD. If you know someone who is in MOUD treatment, let them know you support their efforts and recognize the courage it takes to break the cycle of drug dependence. If someone you know has a family member in MOUD treatment, tell them how glad you are to hear it and how you hope their family member stays in that treatment as long as they need it.

Your encouragement matters because one of the reasons that some people leave MOUD treatment too soon, or never enter it at all, is lack of support from family and friends. The notion that MOUD “isn’t real recovery” has prevented too many people from using MOUD to succeed in recovery and there are challenges people in recovery face. Some challenges may include separating from previous drug-using social networks and managing anxiety and depression, withdrawal, and potential occasional relapse events. 

For a person with opioid use disorder, chances of recovery become much greater when MOUD treatment efforts are supported by friends, family, and the connections within their social networks, and transportation, housing, and employment are accessible in the community.

Together, we can HEAL our communities. 

To learn more about the challenges people face with opioid use disorder, and some tips to overcome them, visit to watch the powerful testimonials of people on MOUD in communities like ours. It is up to all of us to help as many people in Genesee County recover from opioid use disorder.

To learn more about the HEALing Communities Study, visit: 

  • HEALing Communities Study Website:
  • GOW Opioid Task Force Website:
  • GO Health Facebook:

HEALing communities study launches new treatment retention campaign

By Press Release

Press Release:

No matter who we are or where we come from, we all know at least one person affected by opioid use disorder (OUD). An estimated 2.1 million Americans have OUD. 

Since 2019, there have been 53 fatal opioid overdoses in Genesee County, with additional deaths still pending official causes of death.

What many do not realize is that OUD is a medical disorder characterized by an inability to stop the use of an addictive substance, despite the negative consequences associated with its use. Addiction is a chronic brain disease, not a lack of willpower.

Recovery from OUD also requires more than willpower, and medications can be part of the solution. Three FDA approved medications – methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone – can lower the risk of relapse and overdose. The longer a person with OUD stays in medication treatment, the greater the chance of a successful recovery.

However, challenges associated with the availability and acceptance of medication treatment exist. To address these challenges, the HEALing Communities Study will launch a campaign from August 7 - October 6 focused on Staying in Medication Treatment.

This unique campaign aims to help people with OUD and needed supporters (e.g., loved ones, treatment providers):

  • Understand how important medication treatment can be for recovery from OUD
  • Learn how to overcome commonly experienced barriers to treatment retention
  • Improve support for those in medication treatment

Throughout the campaign, real people share their compelling stories about how they have overcome challenges to staying in medication treatment. Treatment challenges addressed throughout the campaign include managing anxiety and depression, coping
with cravings and triggers, finding recovery support that accepts medication treatment, and asking for support from loved ones.

“We are so thankful to all of the spokespersons who have shared their powerful stories about their recovery journey and how they have overcome medication treatment challenges,” stated Sherri Bensley, Program Manager for the HEALing Communities Study. “Their stories continue to save lives by inspiring people with opioid use disorder to stay on medication as long as needed.”

You Can Help HEAL our Communities
Everyone can make a difference by staying on medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) treatment for as long as you need and supporting loved ones in MOUD treatment.

About the HEALing Communities Study
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that 2.1 million Americans have OUD, yet fewer than 20% of those individuals receive specialty care in a given year. A menu of evidence-based practices (EBPs) exists, including opioid overdose education and naloxone dissemination programs, prescription drug monitoring programs, FDA-approved medications for opioid use disorder.

Unfortunately, these EBPs have largely failed to penetrate community settings. As a result, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) launched the HEALing Communities Study (HCS) to investigate and identify the EBPs for preventing and treating OUD that are most effective at the local level. The goal of the study is to reduce opioid-related overdose deaths by 40 percent over the course of three years.

To learn more about the HEALing Communities Study and to help end overdoses in Genesee County, visit:

  • HEALing Communities Study Website:
  • GOW Opioid Task Force Website:
  • GO Health Facebook:

Medications to treat substance use disorder are proven 'tools' in recovery, panelists say

By Mike Pettinella
town hall panel
Participants in Wednesday’s MOUD Anti-Stigma and Awareness Town Hall” at the Genesee County Office for the Aging are, from left, Dr. Samantha Gray, Randi Johnson, Reilly Climenhaga, moderator Paul Pettit, Kate Gregory, Daniel Hauck and Scott Davis. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Treating someone struggling with substance use disorder can take many paths, but the road to recovery can become much easier to navigate with the help of specific clinically proven medications.

That premise was brought to light on Wednesday night by six professionals in the substance use field – including two who have experienced the pain of addiction – who participated in a “MOUD Anti-Stigma and Awareness Town Hall” event at the Genesee County Office for the Aging.

The session was sponsored by the HEAL Initiative and Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming Opioid Task Force, with Paul Pettit, public health director for Genesee & Orleans Health Departments, serving as moderator. About 45 people attended.

“I have sustained healthy sobriety for just under three years, and one of the tools I used to get that sobriety in my toolbox of recovery is buprenorphine,” said Reilly Climenhaga, a detox technician at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, who said he has fought the substance use battle in his life for more than 20 years. “My issues and those of many others go much deeper than just the use of a chemical. There are many paths to sobriety for someone addicted to opiates, but I truly believe that using MOUD (Medication for Opioid Use Disorder) greatly increases a person's chances.”

The Food & Drug Administration has approved buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone to manage opioid use disorder, and those medications are available through local agencies such as GCASA, Horizon Health Services and Rochester Regional Health.

Pettit pointed out that opioid use disorder has been recognized as a chronic disease and these medications work by relieving withdrawal symptoms, addressing psychological cravings and lowering the risk of return to use and overdose death.

“And that is the goal of The HEALing Communities study (a countywide initiative funded by the National Institutes of Health and Columbia University) – to reduce opioid deaths by 40 percent,” he said, noting that data shows that Genesee County has one of the highest opioid overdose death rates in New York.

Dr. Samantha Gray, PhD, an advanced practice clinician at Horizon Health Service’s Batavia location and an adjunct professor at the University of Buffalo, emphasized that MOUD not only helps with substance use disorder but also with the mental health aspect that usually is a key part of the treatment process.

“Over at Horizon, we are an integrated clinic. So, we assess for both substance use and mental health,” she said. “For those of you who are familiar with this population, those two things generally go hand in hand.”

Randi Johnson, a physician assistant at GCASA who works at the agency’s detoxification facility and Albion outpatient clinic, said MOUD, despite what people may think, is not a matter of trading one drug for another.

“I think we've probably all heard that at one point or another. But the important thing to remember is that we are treating this like a disease,” she said. “So, if you go to your primary care physician, you have high blood pressure, you have diabetes, you have any number of other common complaints, we're going to give you a medication to help treat that.

“The beauty of MOUD is that we can use this to take away any withdrawal symptoms for patients. This allows them clarity … it gives them a good baseline that they can function at, so that they can work with the counselors to change the behavioral aspect of this.”

Johnson said she has utilized buprenorphine micro-inductions – a gradual process -- to successfully initiate many patients on buprenorphine.

For Daniel Hauck, a clinical supervisor at Hope Haven Inpatient Rehabilitation, RRH Chemical Dependency unit in Batavia, medication for opioid use disorder has evolved over the years, leading to his acceptance of the practice.

“As I’ve seen it evolve, I've seen that there's better access to those medications. And as we really see better outcomes, it becomes much easier to engage a patient who feels hopeless in that moment, to actually be willing to come into that first appointment and come back to that second appointment,” he offered. “Oftentimes, that hopelessness comes from times where they have tried and feel like they failed.”

Hauck, along with panelist Kate Gregory, a licensed master social worker who manages the chemical dependency unit at RRH and Hope Haven, said they have made great strides in expanding services locally.

Gregory said it was a matter of figuring out how to serve patients better by developing immediate access.

“We launched a community-based care where we were able to go out and really serve patients, where they are literally meeting patients where they're at -- figuring out how not to let the EMR (electronic medical record) stop us from getting creative, and instead really expanding our services to meet the patient at any stage in their recovery,” she said.

When RRH added peer recovery advocates, that was a game-changer, she said.

One of those peers is Scott Davis, who also took part as a panelist at the public forum. Davis is in his second year as a recovery coach and certified peer advocate with RRH and is in recovery after many years of substance use.

In and out of legal trouble, including stints behind bars, Davis said that MOUD as prescribed by a physician was a key factor in his recovery.

“When I went to inpatient (treatment) in 2019, fentanyl was everything in my life,” he said. “I had cravings in rehab but I chose to go to a higher dose (of MOUD). I talked to my doctor, he had a plan, and when I got out I went to the Atwater (Community Residence) halfway house.”

It was there that Davis said he finally found the support system he needed, and eventually went to work for GCASA as a peer, before joining RRH as a recovery coach.

The panelists also shared their thoughts about the stigma attached to substance use disorder – perceptions among friends, family members and the community that can affect a patient’s self-worth.

“I think that, as a mental health or addiction therapist, it’s really important to just acknowledge that that exists. That validation alone can be huge,” Gregory said. “It’s also really important to infuse the culture of your agency with the right language and with the right education and with the right trainings and expectations around what creates a welcoming environment for people.”

She acknowledged the differing views of community members, and said that continuing education through public forums such as this town hall meeting will help to change perceptions.

Johnson said a major hurdle is that patients tend to believe the negative things that are said about them.

“As much as the community stigmatizes them at times, they come in and they believe that so wholeheartedly,” she said. “And so, one of the conversations I usually have with my patients, because almost every single one of them will come in and say I failed my urine test today, that it’s not pass or fail. We have that education in the visits with them because I don't want them to feel like one use constitutes a failure.”

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

town hall attendees

About 45 people attended the two-hour session that explored the issues surrounding medication for opioid use disorder.

Town hall meeting on May 3 in Batavia will tackle subject of medication for opioid use disorder

By Press Release

Press release:

While there are plenty of acronyms in the field of substance use prevention and treatment, not many are as relevant to today’s environment than MOUD.

The Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming Opioid Task Force, in conjunction with The HEAL Initiative, is continuing its effort to inform the public of the benefits of MOUD – medication for opioid use disorder – by hosting a public forum on May 3 at the Genesee County Office for the Aging at 2 Bank St.

The “MOUD Anti-Stigma and Awareness Town Hall” will feature six speakers, including two men who are in recovery, and will be moderated by Paul Pettit, public health director for Genesee & Orleans Health Departments.

Registration is set for 5 p.m., with the session to run from 5:15 to 7 p.m. Registration is recommended but not required, and a light dinner will be served. Naloxone training will be offered following the presentation.

“The major insights that we are looking to share with the public are defining MOUD and illustrating its effectiveness in treatment,” said Christen Foley, GOW Opioid Task Force coordinator. “We hope that this town hall meeting is a step toward clearing up any misconceptions with MOUD and reducing the stigma associated with substance use disorder.”

The forum also will touch upon topics such as creating a supportive environment for those struggling with opioid use disorder and providing local treatment and recovery resources in the region.

Panelists are as follows:

-- Dr. Samantha Gray, PhD, an advanced practice clinician at Horizon Health Service’s Batavia location and an adjunct professor within the department

of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology at the University at Buffalo. She also has her own private practice.

Dr. Gray said she became invested as an advocate after her father passed away from an overdose in 2015. Her experience beyond the outpatient settings includes work with methadone programs, crisis response, homeless shelters, housing programs and community/resource coordination.


-- Reilly Climenhaga, a detox technician at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, who has recovery coach and peer advocate certifications.  He struggled with opioid use disorder for more than 20 years, and has been on and off since the age of 20. He had been taking Sublocade -- a once-a-month injection of buprenorphine.

Climenhaga said that MOUD, coupled with working a strict program of recovery, has changed his life for the better.


-- Randi Johnson, a physician assistant at GCASA for three years, working at the Albion outpatient clinic, at the detoxification facility and the methadone clinic. Previously, she worked in emergency room and urgent care settings.

Johnson said she has utilized buprenorphine micro-inductions to successfully initiate many patients on buprenorphine.

-- Scott Davis, who is in his second year as a recovery coach and certified peer advocate with the Rochester Regional Health system. In recovery for three years, he attributes his success to determination, faith, a strong support team and the application of medication for substance use disorder.

Davis works with clients through Monroe County treatment courts – providing guidance and peer support, providing transportation for same day/next day inpatient admissions, and other services, including reentry into society following incarceration.

-- Kate Gregory, a licensed master social worker who is the manager of Chemical Dependency at Rochester Regional Health and Hope Haven Inpatient unit.

A social worker since 2005, she has worked in both the mental health and chemical dependency fields in a variety of treatment settings, with direct patient care ranging from residential counseling, inpatient social work, jail counseling, community based crisis response and primary therapy.

Gregory, a RRH employee since 2018, was instrumental in overseeing the development of the system’s central access team to increase immediate access and response support across all RRH chemical dependency departments.

-- Daniel Hauck, clinical supervisor at Hope Haven Inpatient Rehabilitation, RRH Chemical Dependency unit in Batavia. He has worked in the substance use treatment field since 2005 across multiple states, having received Master Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor status, specializing in trauma-informed care, community engagement and crisis intervention.

Hauck also has worked as a treatment court liaison for the Tompkins County Drug Court.

To register for the town hall meeting, go to

GOW Opioid Task Force, HEAL Initiative establish free, confidential ‘Text for Naloxone Line’

By Press Release


Press release:

The Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming Opioid Task Force has added another weapon in the battle to prevent opioid overdose deaths: a Text for Naloxone Line.

“We are very excited to offer this free and confidential text line to the community. Now, more than ever, it is vital to increase awareness and education about Naloxone and provide more ways to get it to those in need,” said Christen Foley, GOW Opioid Task Force coordinator.

To receive the Naloxone using the Text for Naloxone Line, text KIT to 877-535-2461.

When texting that number, individuals will be connected to the text line and prompted to answer a few brief questions, including the recipient’s name and address. The delivered kit also will include other resources, such as information on local services and video links on how to administer Naloxone and where to seek care following an overdose.

Naloxone (brand name Narcan, among others) is a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration that reverses opioid overdose rapidly, It is an opioid antagonist, meaning that it binds to opioid receptors and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids.

Sometimes other drugs, including cocaine and methamphetamine, are mixed or laced with fentanyl.

Five key facts about Naloxone are as follows:

  • It temporarily reverses the effects of an overdose from opioids, including heroin, morphine, oxycodone (OxyContin), methadone, fentanyl, hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, hydromorphone and buprenorphine.
  • Naloxone is administered as a nasal spray, a prefilled device that sprays medication into the nose.
  • It will not harm someone if you give it to them and they are not overdosing on an opioid. Signs of an overdose may include constricted pupils, falling asleep or loss of consciousness, limp body, slow breathing, choking or gurgling sounds, cold or clammy skin.
  • It is one important step when helping someone who is overdosing. If you think that someone is overdosing on an opioid or another substance, call 911 immediately, and give Naloxone as quickly as possible – not waiting for emergency personnel to arrive.
  • It can potentially save a life. For more information about the medication, consult your doctor or pharmacist if you or someone you know is taking prescribed opioids or using illicit opioids.  You may also want to ask about naloxone if you work or volunteer in an environment where you may be able to help someone who is overdosing.

Submitted photo: The GOW Opioid Task Force and HEAL Initiative are sponsoring billboards promoting a Text for Naloxone Line in Genesee County. This one is up on Route 5, west of the city of Batavia.

Behavioral specialist urges ‘person-first approach’ to mitigate effects of substance use disorder stigma

By Mike Pettinella


Attitudes toward substance use disorder and words that reflect those attitudes can have a tremendous effect on the recovery process of those struggling with addiction.

“Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace and that (disgrace) is a pretty powerful word,” said Diana Padilla, a longtime behavioral health specialist who was in Genesee County on Wednesday to present a training seminar for social workers and providers at the Alexander Recreation & Banquet Facility.

Padilla, in her 90-minute “Reducing Stigma in Our Communities” presentation, provided tools for counselors to counteract the negative connotations associated with substance use and mental illness.

A research project manager at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Division of Substance Use Disorders, Columbia University Medical Center, Padilla communicated that stigma against people with substance use disorders can create barriers to treatment, such as an increase in shame and isolation from family, friends and community, and treating those with addiction as criminals.

She bemoaned the fact that the healthcare and judicial systems have not fully recognized that substance use disorder is an illness, and that recovery is possible.

“Stigma can lead to more substance use disorder and people can lose hope,” she said. “It really becomes a vicious cycle.”

Padilla said she has seen how health insurance companies and the law continue to view substance use disorder as a “result of a moral weakness and flawed character.”

She noted that some providers blame the individual for causing the problem and will reject treatment coverage, which can lead to substandard, non-science-based care.

When it comes to mental health treatment, Padilla said statistics show that stigma prevents 40 percent of people with anxiety or depression from seeking medical help, and affects people in treatment even when their mental health problem is a distant memory.

To combat stigma, she encouraged counselors to utilize “people-first language” in their interactions with their clients:

  • Speak or write the person first, then the disability, i.e., Sam is a “person with a disability,” or “Sheila is visually impaired…”
  • Emphasize abilities or accomplishments, not limitations.
  • When communicating about a group, “individuals with disabilities.”
  • Allow and expect that individuals with disabilities will speak for themselves.
  • Be careful not to idealize people who have disabilities as being brave simply because they have a disability.

In recent years, there has been a shift toward supportive and affirming language used by public health professionals, she said.

“By using the term, substance use disorder (instead of substance abuse or addiction), it meets a diagnostic criterion,” she said.

Padilla promoted “trauma-informed care” as a key component to successfully reaching someone with substance use disorder and/or mental illness.

She referred to the Adverse Childhood Experience study that reveals a direct link between traumatic experiences at an early age to subsequent alcohol and drug problems. According to the ACE study, 64 percent of adults have faced one adverse childhood experience (emotional, physical or sexual abuse) and 40 percent have faced two or more adverse childhood experiences.

“A person with four or more ACEs is five times more likely to develop substance use disorder,” she pointed out.

It is important for counselors to understand the impact of traumatic events upon their clients’ lives, Padilla said, and to adhere to the guiding principles of trauma-informed care – safety, transparency, peer support, collaboration, empowerment and cultural, historical and gender issues.

“Empowerment, giving the client a voice and a choice, can make a huge difference,” she said. “We should support those choices even when we don’t totally agree.”

In closing, Padilla shared that people are more likely to get treatment and recover when their families, friends, providers, and communities support them without judging them.

“We can choose supportive, respectful, and nonjudgmental words that treat people with respect and compassion,” she said.

The training seminar was hosted by the GOW Opioid Task Force and Genesee County Health Department and supported by the HEALing Communities initiative.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

Submitted photo: The Genesee County Health Department and GOW Opioid Task Force sponsored a "Reducing Stigma in Our Communities" training on Wednesday. From left are presenter Diana Padilla, Emily Penrose and Paul Pettit of the health department, Christen Foley of the task force and Jennifer Rowan of the health department.

Columbia University official to share ways to reduce stigma of substance use disorder

By Mike Pettinella

Press release:

Diana Padilla, research project manager at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Division of Substance Use Disorders, Columbia University Medical Center, will be the keynote speaker at a “Reducing Stigma in Our Communities” training in the Village of Alexander.

The session is set for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Alexander Recreation & Banquet Facility on Route 98.

Hosted by the GOW Opioid Task Force and Genesee County Health Department, the training is designed to help healthcare and social services professionals, as well as members of the general public, learn how to identify and address stigma surrounding opioid use disorder and improve access to services in the Genesee Region.

Padilla, photo at right, has worked in the field of behavioral health for more than 24 years. Her experience includes service provision to communities with substance use, HIV/HCV, trauma and stress, and other psychosocial conditions.

In her capacity as a research project manager, she develops curriculum and is a senior staff trainer for the Northeast & Caribbean Addiction/Prevention Technology Transfer Centers.

Using a cultural and recovery oriented perspective, Ms. Padilla instructs on how to enhance strategies and interventions to best engage and meet the needs of substance using communities, LGBTQ+ people, diverse and other traditionally underserved populations.

Her areas of expertise include culturally and linguistically responsive services, trauma informed care, community disparities, racial stigma, social determinants of health, and affirming and inclusive best practices with clinical, non-clinical and peer support professionals.

Registration deadline for the free training is Jan. 12. Lunch will be provided.

To register, go to

Public safety, peer advocates come together to help others through PAARI program

By Mike Pettinella

Deaths from drug overdoses, many of them involving fentanyl, are on the rise, and all neighborhoods – urban and rural – are at risk.

Officials of public safety agencies and the health department in Genesee County say they are united in their effort to provide the support needed to those struggling with substance use disorder through the Public Safety Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative.

“The City of Batavia Police Department is determined to do our part in the fight against the opioid epidemic in our city and region,” Chief Shawn Heubusch said. “To that end we continue to partner with the GOW Opioid Task Force to support programs such as PAARI, where anyone suffering from addiction can come to our department, any time day or night, and get connected to a professional for assistance.”

The Genesee County sheriff, Le Roy Police chief, City of Batavia fire chief and Genesee County public health director echoed Heubusch’s sentiments – with each official affirming their agency’s participation in PAARI.

PAARI is a valuable partnership between local public safety agencies, Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse and the Genesee County Health Department. This resource is available so that residents who are suffering from substance use and want to seek help, can access a safe place in the community at all hours, without judgment or legal implications.

“The PAARI program provides residents with the support that they need when they are ready to seek help and treatment,” Public Health Director Paul Pettit said. “Our partners are trustworthy, compassionate people who want to get our residents that are struggling the help that they need and connect them to the resources available.

“We know that the holidays can be a difficult time for some, but know that you are not alone. There are people in the community that care about you and want to help you.”

Pettit said that 15 Genesee County residents died from an overdose in 2020, and in almost all of those cases fentanyl was involved.

“Since then, at least 17 additional community residents have died from an opioid overdose,” he added.

Sheriff William Sheron Jr. said his office “stands ready to assist in any way possible those individuals and families who are combatting addiction.”

“Addiction can affect anyone, anytime.  We are available; our doors are always open, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Please do not hesitate to reach out and together we can work to overcome addiction within our communities,” he said.

Batavia Fire Chief Josh Graham said his department will continue to partner with the other agencies in PAARI to provide a safe place where anyone suffering from addiction can come to help.

“When I first learned about the PAARI program within the City of Batavia Fire Department, I was immediately impressed with the idea,” he mentioned. “Doing everything we can to aid in the fight against opioids is imperative.”

Peer advocates at GCASA are available at all hours to assist those who utilize the PAARI program, said Melissa Vinyard, a certified peer recovery coach and someone in recovery.

“My fellow peers and I get the opportunity to go reach out and offer a hand to help those who suffer with SUD,” she said. “For that, I truly believe we are responsible. It is my privilege to give back to our community what was so freely given to me.”

Residents seeking treatment or prevention services can also access the GOW Linkage to Care App. The free app is available for download on the App Store and Google Play by searching “GOW Opioid Linkage to Care.”

The Genesee County PAARI locations are as follows:

  • City of Batavia Fire Department, 18 Evans St., Batavia, (585) 345-6375.
  • City of Batavia Police, 10 West Main St., Batavia, (585) 345-6350.
  • Genesee County Sheriff, 165 Park Rd., Batavia, (585) 345-3000.
  • Le Roy Police, 3 West Main St., Le Roy, (585) 768-2527

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist at GCASA.

Deadly fentanyl has local law enforcement, health professionals on high alert

By Mike Pettinella


Those on the front lines in the battle against the opioid epidemic are unified in their message: Fentanyl is wreaking havoc across the United States, including right here in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties.

“We’re seeing the human toll that fentanyl is having on our communities,” said Investigator Ryan DeLong of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, one of four speakers at Tuesday morning’s GOW Opioid Task Force meeting. “Probably everyone in this room has been affected (by substance use) by a family member or friend.”

DeLong and Deputy Ken Quackenbush, both trained as Drug Recognition Experts, spoke on what local law enforcement is dealing with as the scourge of fentanyl – a synthetic, prescription opioid that is 50 times stronger that heroin – has found its way, mostly from Rochester, into the rural counties.

They were joined by Emily Penrose, an epidemiologist with the Genesee County Health Department, who reported data on opioid-related deaths in Genesee and Orleans, and Christen Foley, task force coordinator, who described the basics of fentanyl and the telling signs of an overdose.

About 35 people attended the quarterly meeting at The Recovery Station, operated by Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, on Clinton Street Road.

DeLong and Quackenbush said that they are encountering scores of people using fentanyl through their road patrols and other drug crackdown initiatives. DeLong noted that the opioid is usually packaged in a wax envelope, about an inch square, but recently, they are finding it mixed with other substances for smoking purposes.

While police used to deal with heroin and other stimulants, Quackenbush said that he has “never seen heroin or seen heroin come back on a toxicology report” in his six years with the sheriff’s office.

“It’s always fentanyl,” he said.

Fentanyl is being distributed in both powder and pill form, with some pills in bright colors to mimic candy, the officers said. DeLong said fentanyl is much cheaper than heroin – a factor leading to its widespread use.  Last year, more than 100,000 Americans died of opioid overdose.

DeLong explained that law enforcement is staying up to date in several ways on the drugs coming into the United States:

  • Through regular emails from the federal government on packaging, quantities, forms and trends;
  • Through communication among all local and regional police agencies;
  • Through pro-active policing such as traffic stops and field testing of seizures (confirmed by lab results);
  • Through narcotics trainings at both the “macro and local levels.”

“Every deputy carries and is trained in the administration of Naloxone (popular brand name, Narcan) and we respond to overdose calls for service along with EMS (Emergency Management Services) and fire (personnel),” DeLong said. “We’re also involved in the Public Safety Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, where we link individuals to services through GCASA peer recovery advocates (without criminal implications) and conduct Drug Take-Back programs throughout the year.”

Penrose presented charts that showed a spike in opioid deaths in both Genesee and Orleans counties in 2017 and 2018 – both rates per 100,000 people well above the national average. She said the rate has decreased in the past three years but continues to be cause for concern.

“We’ve seen a big raise in fentanyl-related deaths since 2014, where before that, the overdose deaths mostly stemmed from heroin,” she said. “Additionally, we’ve seen fentanyl in stimulants such as cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and bath salts.”

As far as leading causes of death in the U.S., unintentional injuries – including poisoning from alcohol and drugs – is the leading cause of death in every age group from 1 through 44.

“When you look deeper into unintentional injuries, we see that poisoning is the No. 1 cause for the 25-34, 35-44, 45-54 and 55-64 age groups – and that’s fentanyl,” she stated.

The health department is currently involved in a new initiative, HEALing Genesee, which is working to prevent overdose death through education and awareness, increasing access to Naloxone (which saves the lives of people experiencing an overdose) and safe prescribing practices.

The GOW Opioid Task Force, in conjunction with GCASA, regularly schedules trainings in Naloxone administration, Foley said.

“We encourage as many people as possible to get trained in how to administer Naloxone,” she said, noting that just 2 milligrams of fentanyl is considered a lethal dose in most people. “It’s important to know the signs of an overdose, which including drowsiness or unconsciousness, slow or shallow breathing, choking sounds or skin tone changes.”

For more information about Naloxone training or the task force, contact Foley at 585-815-1863.

Photo: Speakers at the GOW Opioid Task Force meeting on Tuesday are, from left, Christen Foley, Emily Penrose, Deputy Ken Quackenbush and Investigator Ryan DeLong. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

DISCLOSURE: Mike Pettinella is the media specialist at GCASA.

GOW Opioid Task Force offers Overdose Awareness Day

By Press Release


The GOW Opioid Task Force will be conducting the annual Overdose Awareness Day from 4-7 p.m. Aug. 24 at Austin Park in Batavia.

Task Force Coordinator Christen Foley said the event – started internationally in 2001 – is designed to help raise awareness of the opioid epidemic and remember the lives that have been lost due to an overdose.

“We will hear from speakers who have been affected by substance use and present information from local agencies,” Foley said. “Additionally, there will be live music, family activities, face painting and free Narcan training.”

Attendees also will be offered the opportunity to leave a note on the task force’s memory board for a deceased loved one.

Those interested in having a table at the event or to register for the Narcan training are asked to contact Foley at

Human services agencies working together in effort to reunite women with their children

By Mike Pettinella


Women in recovery who are seeking reunification with their children can be encouraged by the networking that exists among provider agencies in Western New York.

That was the message conveyed Thursday at the quarterly meeting of the GOW Opioid Task Force at The Recovery Station on Clinton Street Road in the Town of Batavia.

About 35 people attended the meeting – titled “Parent and Family Resources in Our Communities" -- which was the first in-person gathering for the three-county group since January 2020.

Professionals representing Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming, Erie and Niagara counties spoke about the services offered by their agencies.

“A lot of women who find out that they're pregnant while in medically assisted treatment or in active use are afraid to ask for help because of the stigma that surrounds them,” said Jessica Budzinack, case manager at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. “So, we decided to develop a plan that has case management, parent/family support, childcare supports and other services to provide a continuum of care for these people.”

Budzinack specializes in services for pregnant and post-partum women, and for those who have had children born with exposure to substances.


She said that GCASA has connected with Dr. Davina Moss-King of Positive Direction & Associates in Buffalo, who works with patients and babies suffering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and are in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital.

“We have seen that she (Dr. King) was making a difference in Erie County, and we wanted to know what we can do to meet the need in our rural counties,” Budzinack said. “She has trained our team and we implement the positive direction model here at GCASA.”

The positive direction model focuses on accountability and education – giving women the tools to be successful in their recovery and, ultimately, as parents.

Budzinack said she has worked with dozens of women, including many that have an active Child Protective Services case.

“If someone has an open CPS case while pregnant and it is still active when she gives birth, that child also becomes part of that investigation,” she said. “This is to protect the child from the possibility of ‘derivative neglect’ or abuse. The Office of Children and Family Services has a form that I complete with the participants that outlines a plan of safe care – showing all of the programs and services being offered to the parents.”

She said GCASA has provided such services to nine women over the past 10 months, with only one infant having to stay past the five days that New York State requires for observation. None of those babies had to go to the NICU.

“So, we believe we are making a difference by implementing this model here at GCASA,” she added. “A lot of women – and men – are learning how to be a parent all over again, with some having young children who also have experienced the life of addiction and now are recovering themselves.”


GCASA offers family relationship peer coaches who provide support in various areas (such as transportation and assistance with the legal system and Department of Social Services) and teach ways for parents and children to communicate with each other, she said.

Additionally, Budzinack mentioned GCASA’s childcare center in Batavia, which operates Monday through Friday, and allows parents to drop off their young children – 8 weeks to 12 years old – up to three hours per day.

“The children are trained in cognitive play – which means that they learn while they play,” she said. “It’s not just a drop-off site where people sit there and stare at the kids until they're ready to get picked up. They actually have a lot of fun.”

The childcare program also offers special activities, such as trips to the zoo or family game nights, through The Recovery Station.

“We all work closely together; we all talk to each other all the time. And we all just look at each individual and see what their needs are, and talk with each other to see how they can be met,” she advised. “It’s all about rebuilding relationships and becoming effective parents while sober.”

Dawn Stone of Spectrum Health & Human Services, a peer specialist providing mentoring services to those in recovery in Wyoming County, said she works across systems to identify effective treatment plans for mothers, fathers and children.

“We work with Hillside Children’s Center, which deals with families with developmental issues, and we also have what’s called Lighthouse Station, where pregnant moms who don’t have a place to stay – and would otherwise be in jail – can deliver their babies in a non-jail setting,” she said. “We also work with other counties to learn about their programs and refer families to when they come to us.”


One of those agencies is Buffalo-based Caz Recovery, which was represented at the meeting by Angela Angora, director of Reintegration Services, and Morgan King, program manager at Madonna House, a 17-bed rehabilitation facility for women and women with children in Lockport.

Angora, a Genesee County resident, shared that her mother became addicted to crack cocaine in the early 1990s, a time when there weren’t many treatment and recovery programs.

She said things have changed dramatically over the years, noting that Caz Recovery offers Casa Di Vita, a 19-bed reintegration program for women in Buffalo and Somerset House, a 17-bed reintegration program in Appleton.

“We do accept women that are pregnant, however, they would have to come back with the baby here,” she said. “With this program, the women have more autonomy, they're able to go out into the community and they have community time for visits with their family.”

At each location, Caz Recovery staff provide specialized services to help women get their lives back in order and reach the point of reuniting with their children and learning parenting skills, she said.

“After individuals complete our rehabilitation program, our community residences – congregate settings – focus on volunteering, job placement and outpatient counseling, and they receive their services off site,” Angora added. “This is where you will see a greater focus on that family involvement.”

Caz Recovery also offers supportive living, with 40 beds in Erie County and 14 beds in Niagara County, serving women and men with children, as well as a housing program for families ready for that important step, she said.


Shannon Ford, GCASA’s director of Communications & Development, shared that the local agency will be opening a women’s residence in Orleans County next year.

“We’re hoping to have a lot of those same kind of services available for women in our rural communities,” she said. “Currently, we work with Spectrum to help those in Wyoming County coming into our residential programs, but we have not been able to offer anything specifically for women and children to this kind of level.

“So, we’re extremely excited to model our programs after that. And I'm very grateful that GCASA has been able to make referrals over many years to Madonna House.”

For more about programs for women and children in this area, contact Budzinack at 585-813-8583 or at

Photo: Speakers at the recent meeting of the GOW Opioid Task Force are, from left, Christen Foley, task force coordinator; Dawn Stone of Spectrum Health & Human Services, Jessica Budzinack of GCASA, and Morgan King and Angela Angora of Caz Recovery.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

GOW Opioid Task Force to explore resources for local parents, families at July 21 meeting

By Press Release

“Parent and Family Resources in Our Communities” is the topic of the next quarterly meeting of the GOW Opioid Task Force.

“Local professionals will be joining us to discuss this important topic,” said Christen Foley, coordinator of the group that includes members from Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties.

The hourlong meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on July 21 at The Recovery Station, 5256 Clinton St., Rd., Batavia. Foley said that this will be the first exclusively in-person meeting since January 2020.

Speakers include:

  • Jessica Budzinack, case manager at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, specializing in services for pregnant and post-partum women, and for those who have had children born with exposure to substances;
  • Dawn Stone, peer specialist with Spectrum Health & Human Services, who provides mentoring services to individuals and families in recovery;
  • Angela Angora, director of Reintegration Services at Caz Recovery.

All will be presenting on their roles and their experience working with families, women and children, and will outline all of the services they provide,” Foley said.

A free Narcan training session will take place at 11 a.m. at The Recovery Station. All participants will receive a Narcan kit.

The link to register for the meeting and/or the training is as follows:

Medication-assisted-treatment has many names, but one goal: To save lives of those in recovery

By Mike Pettinella

No matter what term is used – and there are several of them, the practice of combining medication and treatment for people struggling with substance use disorder has a singular goal: Saving lives.

“Medication-Assisted-Treatment – or MAT – is an evidence-based program that has been shown to make a positive difference in saving lives for persons with an opiate use disorder. And it's considered the gold standard for treatment of opiate use disorder,” said Ann Bowback, clinical director at Spectrum Health & Human Services in Warsaw.

Bowback is the project director for the Partnership to Address Opioid Epidemic and Save Lives in Western New York Through Medication-Assisted-Treatment, a program funded by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Speaking at the GOW Opioid Task Force quarterly meeting recently, she explained that her program, in collaboration with Evergreen Health, is looking to increase the number of persons receiving MAT within the Spectrum agencies by at least 200 per year.

“We work to link people with a prescriber the same day, if possible, but at the latest within 72 hours of their initial visit with us,” she said. "We also will add two additional data waiver subscribers per year in order to meet the needs of these additional 200 people. And with this grant, our goal is to ensure that all the MAT clients are offered peer services (recovery advocates) within 60 days of admission.”

Other speakers at the meeting, which took place at The Recovery Station on Clinton Street Road and provided access via Zoom videoconferencing, were Melissa Weingarten, Wyoming County Jail nurse, and Kathy Hodgins, chief clinical officer at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.

Bowback said most substance use disorder providers along with jails and prisons are taking a “whole patient approach” to treatment.

“MAT is more than just medication,” she said. “For some members of the recovery community, including our Evergreen partner, they refer to this as MAR – medication-assisted-recovery. This can be a referred term for some people because it emphasizes a person's commitment to recovery while using medications, and they may or may not be involved with treatment.”

She also said it can be referred to as MOUD (medications for opioid use disorder), which zeroes in on the importance of medication and addressing opiate use, and also as OTP (opioid treatment program) or OBOD (office based opiate treatment).

“PWUD stands for people who use drugs as we’re ideally trying to get away from some of the stigmatizing language like addicts and things like that,” she added. “OUD stands for opiate use disorder and OTP is where you would get medication such as methadone.”

Currently, the Food & Drug Administration has approved three medications for treatment of opiate use disorder -- methadone, naltrexone and buprenorphine, Bowback said.

“All medications work a little differently, but all basically normalize brain chemistry in order to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms,” she noted. “Methadone was first used in 1947 to treat opioid addiction and critics complained at that time that methadone merely exchanged one drug for another which led to strict government control over methadone, and that continues today.

“Now, in order to receive methadone for an opiate use disorder, you have to obtain it from an OTP. And although methadone is very effective, some individuals are hesitant to take this medication.”

Bowback said Spectrum offers naltrexone (brand name, Vivitrol), which was approved to treat opiate use disorder in 2010.

“The extended-release formulation is generally preferred for the treatment of opiate use disorder,” she said. “But some individuals do still prefer the pill form. Our prescribers will typically start a person on the pill form prior to prescribing the injection just to ensure the person is able to tolerate it. In order to receive this medication, though, the person cannot have opiates in their system; otherwise, they'll experience withdrawal. So, you must be abstinent for at least seven days.”

Spectrum also offers buprenorphine (also known as suboxone) for MAT, she said. In the 60s, buprenorphine was developed for treatment of pain and approved for treatment of opiate use disorder in 2002.

“Unlike methadone, a person almost immediately receives a seven-day script and within a very short time is able to receive a script for 28 days, which results in less daily disruption to lifestyles,” she advised. “You don't have to be present at a clinic daily … and you don't have to be abstinent for seven days in order to receive the medication.”

Medications reduce withdrawal and cravings and, as a result, decreases the use of illicit drugs and overdose, stabilizes the brain and “most of all, saves lives,” Bowback said.

“It also socially decreases criminal activity and reduces risk of transmission of communicable diseases, reduces risky sexual activity, and increases engagement with treatment.”

MAT is at the core of services at GCASA, which offers an integrated treatment and OTP clinic at its main location in Batavia as well as clinical services at its Orleans County location in Albion, Hodgins said.

“When I started at GCASA in 2002, we were already doing medication-assisted-treatment with alcohol, using naltrexone to treat alcohol dependence,” she said. “And then shortly after, we did start using buprenorphine -- suboxone for opiate use disorder individuals that came in.”

Hodgins said GCASA counselors and medical professionals treat medication for substance use disorder “similar to any kind of medication that you take.”

“So, those on medication are definitely in recovery – it just assists with the recovery. And it really does help reduce the cravings and the physical withdrawal.”

Weingarten shared that Wyoming County Jail started its MAT program in early 2020, offering suboxone and naltrexone.

“We provide medication to those who have been on MAT programs in the community, as long as we can verify that they’ve been in treatment and continued to get it,” she said.

She also mentioned that Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation that requires all prisons and jails, beginning in October, to provide MAT to inmates.

“So, we've started that way before she's required it,” she said, adding that the jail program includes individual and group counseling – and connection to peer recovery advocates.

Hodgins said “it just makes sense” to keep incarcerated people on medication, especially considering the rising overdose rates. GCASA provides services to inmates in six jails or prisons, including Genesee, Orleans, Albion, Groveland, Wyoming and Attica.

“Our common goal in our community is to save lives and I’m grateful that the state is on board with that,” she said. “I believe the best way to proceed is to start with a thorough assessment while they’re in jail and getting them on the right medication prior to release. That is how we’re going to save additional lives in our community.”

Photo: Melissa Weingarten, right, Wyoming County Jail nurse, makes a point as Kathy Hodgins, chief clinical officer at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, during the GOW Opioid Task Force meeting at The Recovery Station on Clinton Street Road. Submitted photo.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

GOW Opioid Task Force to discuss Medicated-Assisted-Treatment on April 21

By Press Release

Press release:

“Medicated-Assisted-Treatment in Our Communities” is the topic of the GOW Opioid Task Force quarterly meeting scheduled for 10-11 a.m. April 21 at The Recovery Station, 5256 Clinton St. Rd., Batavia.

The hybrid-style meeting – both in person and via Zoom videoconferencing – is open to the public at no charge.

“We are excited to offer this hybrid option and, more importantly, to provide information on M-A-T to the community,” said Christen Ferraro, GOW Opioid Task Force coordinator.

Discussion will center around what M-A-T is, how it is used in substance use disorder treatment and recovery and its effectiveness, as well as sharing their experiences working with M-A-T services in various settings.

Speakers are:

  • Ann Bowback, clinical director at Spectrum Health & Human Services in Warsaw. She is the project director of the Medicated-Assisted-Treatment program in collaboration with Evergreen Health.
  • Melissa Weingarten, Wyoming County Jail nurse. In November 2021, she joined the Wyoming County Health Department in a full-time capacity as the nurse for jail medical services, administering medication to the inmates.
  • Kathy Hodgins, chief clinical officer at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. She oversees the M-A-T services and Opioid Treatment Program clinic in Genesee and Orleans counties.

For more details and how to register, visit or contact Ferraro at

United Memorial Medical Center pain management nurse practitioner advocates for non-opioid alternatives

By Mike Pettinella

Opioids for pain management are no longer the standard care for chronic pain, according to a board-certified family nurse practitioner at the United Memorial Medical Center Pain Management Center in Batavia.

“We do not avoid prescription medications, but we work to avoid the management of opioids, which can decrease the perception of pain and not the cause of it,” said Rebecca Russo, responding to questions about non-opioid alternatives for the GOW Opioid Task Force.

Russo, (photo at right), an employee at the UMMC pain clinic since August 2020, said as a pain management nurse practitioner, she recommends minimally invasive fluoroscopic procedures for diagnosis and treatment of pain.

“We work with the patient’s primary care physician and other health care professionals to ensure the best possible outcomes for these patients,” she said. “We also like to be as conservative as possible (by utilizing) non-invasive measures such as physical therapy, aqua therapy, chiropractic and massage treatments, and acupuncture.”

When it comes to opioids, Russo is well aware of the long-term effects – including addiction – that can result from prolonged use of these drugs.

“There are so many more alternatives a pain management specialist treating chronic pain that can offer the most benefit for these patients,” she said. “A multimodal approach to management is best in treating chronic pain. Opioids are not used for chronic non-malignant pain anymore as studies have shown.”

Russo said she switched to the pain management field when a colleague recommended her for a pain management and neurology position.

“I have to say I wouldn’t have had a better fit in my career. This specialty is fascinating and bountiful in ways to help patients, which I lay my foundation on,” the Michigan native said. “I have been working in pain management since I graduated with my Master of Science in Nursing four years ago.”

Prior to joining the program at UMMC, she was a registered nurse for six years, working on various units, including intermediate care, medical/surgical, observation and progressive care.

She said the local pain clinic treats a wide range of chronic and acute pain conditions, such as neck pain, cancer pain, myofascial pain, joint pain, back pain, phantom limb pain, bursitis, sciatica, post herpetic neuralgia pain, complex regional pain syndrome, peripheral neuropathy and failed back surgery syndrome.

“Some of the micro-invasive procedures that can be performed at the UMMC Pain Center include nerve blocks in various areas as well as radiofrequency ablations; lumbar, thoracic and cervical epidural steroid injections; trigger point injections; and spinal cord stimulator implantation,” she said.

The practice is growing coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, she reported, with more and more in-person visits being scheduled.

“At this time, we strive to keep our visits in-person, but we can accommodate telemedicine visits when a patient is unable to be seen in-person. This may be for various reasons such as being ill, inability to drive or last minute patient schedule changes,” she explained.

Russo sees the pain clinic as a viable alternative for people dealing with chronic pain, adding that the patient is considered “an important team member.”

“Interventional management is beneficial for patients when their pain continues even after attempting conservative treatments or do not have a diagnosis for their pain,” she said. “A proper diagnosis is the first step to successful treatment.

“Another benefit for these patients is that they want to avoid surgery if possible or if they’ve had surgery, but still experiencing pain, we can provide them alternatives to another surgery unless otherwise indicated.”

The UMMC Pain Center is located at 229 Summit St., Suite 4. For more information, call 585-815-6710.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

National drug policy attorney Rob Kent to speak at Thursday's GOW Opioid Task Force meeting

By Press Release

Press release:

Rob Kent, former general counsel for the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports who currently is serving in a similar position for the White House Office of National Drug Policy, will be the keynote speaker at the GOW Opioid Task Force quarterly meeting on Thursday.

The public is invited to watch and participate in the meeting, which is scheduled from 9:30 to 11 a.m. via Zoom videoconferencing.

To register, go to Once registered, a confirmation email with Zoom information and a link to join the meeting will be sent.

Task Force Coordinator Christen Ferraro said that Kent (pictured above) will share the federal government’s perspective on the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as what is being done at the national level to combat the opioid crisis.

“It is important that we continue the conversation surrounding the opioid crisis and ways we can help amidst the pandemic,” Ferraro said. “People in our community are still struggling and in need of support and treatment services. This virtual meeting helps us to stay connected and to safely reach even more of the concerned citizens in our tri-county region.”

Ferraro said she will share highlights of the task force’s accomplishments over the past year and provide updates on the various work groups.

Kent is well respected among several professional groups, receiving glowing endorsements from the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry and the New York State Psychiatric Association upon his hiring by the Biden administration.

In his role at OASAS, Kent provided overall legal support, policy guidance, and direction to the OASAS Executive Office and all divisions of the agency.

He led OASAS efforts to implement New York State’s Heroin and Opioid Task Force recommendations, which included the Combat Addiction/Heroin Campaign, the Federal Opioid Targeted Grant program, and Medicaid Redesign Team initiatives. He also led efforts on the implementation of historic legislation to increase access to treatment, including harm reduction services.

Kent has co-authored articles on patient confidentiality and sober homes and has presented nationally and throughout New York State on the addiction system of care.

Most recently, he served as vice president of Advocacy and general counsel for the American Association of Orthodontists, a national healthcare organization.

For more information on the GOW Opioid Task Force, contact Ferraro at

City Fire Captain: PAARI is a Door for People Struggling with Addiction and a Tool for Reducing Stigma

By Mike Pettinella

In the eyes of City of Batavia Fire Captain Greg Ireland, his department made a wise and potentially life-saving decision to join the Public Safety Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative in Genesee County.

Ireland, speaking at the GOW Opioid Task Force meeting via Zoom earlier this month, said access to a specially-built foyer in front of the fire headquarters on Evans Street for those struggling with substance use has made a big difference – not only for those individuals who are seeking help but also for the fire department personnel assigned to support them.

The Task Force, in conjunction with the Greater Rochester Health Foundation and Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, hosted a public event at the fire station this summer to welcome the City of Batavia FD into the fold – joining the City of Batavia and Village of Le Roy police departments and the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office.

The City of Batavia FD is the first fire department in the state to be a part of the PAARI network.

Ireland (photo at right) said that by educating them about substance use and addiction, firefighters learned to understand what some people are going through.

“There were some in our department who said they didn’t want those people in our building; that they didn’t want to deal with addicts,” he said. “Through education, that was a very easy hurdle to change. Educating our firefighters and employees to the opioid crisis.”


He also said a key factor in the education process was when a GCASA peer advocate came to the fire department and met with every one of the firefighters.

“That really bridged that gap. They were able to see that these are real people who have real struggles and eventually can be successful,” he said.

Ireland, in thanking the GRHF for a grant that made it possible, pointed to the secure area for PAARI intake at the building’s front door as overcoming another hurdle.

“We were able to build a double-door foyer for intake now, and that’s where the process starts,” he said. “But a firefighter is assigned to stay with that person from the minute they walk in until the peer counselor from GCASA arrives.”

Ireland took on the role as coordinator of the PAARI program for the department after learning the success the Chatham Police Department had in starting several years ago. The initial thought of Chatham organizers was to reduce petty crime by taking those with substance use disorder off the street by getting them help.

“Think about these folks who have that substance use disorder, and they’ll basically take from anything to feed their habit,” he said. “So, what they found is that by eliminating the people with substance use disorder in his community, they reduced the petty crime – theft and things of that nature because people weren’t stealing to buy drugs. That was the whole goal of this program. It reduces crime and there’s some scientific evidence to prove that.”

Ireland said medics use special business cards – printed with “Addiction is not a crime, it’s a disease” and “Help is available 24/7” – when responding to calls involving drug use.

“We will leave the cards on the kitchen table as we leave,” he said. “Our hope is someday maybe they will pick that up, see it and maybe it’s the right time for them to accept the help.”


PAARI’s mission is to provide training, guidance, support, and resources to help law enforcement agencies nationwide create non-arrest pathways to treatment and recovery.

It was founded by the Gloucester (Mass.) Police Department along with the Angel Program in June 2015 – creating a simple, stigma-free entry point to treatment and reframing addiction as a disease.

Under this program, those struggling with substance use can go to the law enforcement agency 24/7 and receive help, stigma-free, GOW Opioid Task Force Coordinator Christen Ferraro said.

“What that means is that an officer will meet them at the door and they will help them to get the help that they need,” she said. “If they have drugs on them, police or fire officials will dispose of those drugs for them, they will connect them with the resources for treatment and recovery, and kind of be that first entry point to getting help.”

One of those resources is the support of a GCASA peer support advocate – a team player, often in recovery, who steps into the role of providing a bridge between providers and clients that facilitates the medical and psychosocial care of the client.

Rob Shields, who spoke during the meeting, is one of those people.


“As someone in recovery, I wish that I knew about a program like this due to the fact that I might have not gone through the struggles that I went through,” Shields said before explaining his responsibilities.


He said that those struggling with substance use need someone they can connect with – someone who can relate to their situation.

“A peer advocate or peer support advocate emphasizes their support for the peer they're working with,” he said. “They connect with the peer and fight for what they need. Peer advocates can be found next to peers in court. They help them come up with coping skills and ways to monitor their own progress.”

Shields (photo at right) emphasized that substance dependency can be “a scary place.”

“You get to the point where you don’t know where to turn, and you don’t know who to talk to. You’re in so deep, that nothing else matters in your life,” he explained. “You think that people won’t give you the time of day, but with the PAARI program you have people that are there to support you and connect you to the resources to help you on your road to recovery.”


Along with the options of going to the agencies mentioned above, other avenues for those seeking help with substance use disorder are the 24/7 telephone hotline -- CARE + CRISIS / WYO CO CRISIS 585-283-5200 / PEER PHONE LINE 585-815-1800 -- and GCASA’s The Recovery Station at 5256 Clinton Street Rd., Batavia.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

'Sobering' statistics reveal impact of opioids, other drugs upon society as awareness efforts continue

By Mike Pettinella


Over the 12 months prior to September of 2020, 90,237 in the United States – a 30 percent increase from the previous year.

In 2017, 585,000 worldwide.

In 2020, 15 in Genesee County and seven in Orleans County.

Those figures represent the number of people who have died from an opioid overdose – staggering figures that reveal the extent of the epidemic that continues to devastate society.

Healthcare and mental health professionals in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties on the front lines of this scourge came together on Wednesday afternoon at Austin Park for the annual International Overdose Awareness Day observance.

Representatives of a dozen agencies plus area residents whose lives have been affected by opioid use attended the event, which was to raise awareness and to remember those who have been lost due to an overdose.

Genesee/Orleans Public Health Director Paul Pettit shared that in 2020, 58 people from Genesee County went to the emergency room and another 38 from Orleans County went to the ER due to drug overdoses – both up from 2019.

“That can be attributed to COVID; people were isolated and feeling alone,” he said.

Pettit had encouraging words about the efforts of the GOW Opioid Task Force, an organization comprised of people from various sectors of the community.

“We’ve been working together for many years and are making great strides,” he said, mentioning an increase in access to care and the amount of Narcan training being done. “We want to get more people trained. We have a medication that can save lives.”

He said that since 2018, about 3,500 people have been trained.

“We’re making gains but we still have a ways to go,” he said.

John Bennett, executive director of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, spoke about the impact of Overdose Awareness Day throughout the world, noting that events such as the one in Batavia are taking place throughout the state and in around 40 countries.

International Overdose Awareness Day was created in 2001 by Sally J. Finn at The Salvation Army in St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia.

“As we come together today, not only think about those locally who have lost their lives, but this is a worldwide problem that’s killed over a million people,” he said.

Agencies taking part in the event included GO Health, Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Erie County Health Department, Spectrum Human Services, The Recovery Station, Wyoming County Mental Health, Fidelis Care, Rochester Regional Healthy, Cornell Cooperative Extension and Horizon Health.

GOW Opioid Task Force Coordinator Christen Ferraro said the Old County Courthouse will be lit up on Aug. 31 and signs commemorating awareness day will be placed in the front of the building.

Photo caption: Melissa Vinyard, a peer advocate at GCASA, shares her story of recovery at Wednesday’s Overdose Awareness Day. Vinyard said drugs and alcohol use nearly killed her, but she sought help and now has been sober since Dec. 30, 2017. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the GCASA publicist.

Overdose Awareness Day set for Austin Park on Aug. 25

By Press Release

Press release:

Join us to help raise awareness and remember the lives that have been lost due to an overdose.

Backed by that clear but hard-hitting mission statement, members of the GOW Opioid Task Force will be coming together on Aug. 25 to host their version of the International Overdose Awareness Day observation.

The event is scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m. at Austin Park in Batavia.

“We’re thankful to be able to welcome everyone to join us in recognizing the significance of the opioid epidemic upon the residents of our community,” said Christen Ferraro, project coordinator for the GOW Opioid Task Force, which is funded by the Greater Rochester Health Foundation. “Those in attendance will be able to hear first-hand from those who have experienced loss due to overdoses.”

Representatives of local human services agencies will be on hand to share information, and free Narcan training and kits will be offered, Ferraro said. Free food and refreshments will be served.

Attendees also will be offered the opportunity to leave a heart on the task force’s memory board for a deceased loved one.

International Overdose Awareness Day was created in 2001 by Sally J. Finn at The Salvation Army in St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia, and now is held on an annual basis. Locally, it took place virtually last year due to COVID-19. In 2020, there were 602 Overdose Awareness Day events held in 37 countries.

To register for this year’s event, go to

Those interested in having a vendor table are asked to contact Ferraro at

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