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HEAL Initiative

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.

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