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Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf to speak about substance use disorder, mental health on May 8

By Press Release
Ryan Leaf
Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf, right, and former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jack Ham at a Legends & Stars event in February 2023 at Batavia Downs Gaming. Now a motivational speaker, Leaf is scheduled to speak at Genesee Community College on May 8. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Press release:

“Twelve years ago today I woke up on the floor of a jail cell...with no hope or possible idea what could be! There was no possibility of this life, no love of my life, no career, no future, no family, no recovery," Leaf wrote on X. "You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending! There is Hope!” – Ryan Leaf, April 1, 2024.

In 1998, the San Diego Chargers selected Ryan Leaf, standout quarterback from Washington State University, as the No. 2 overall pick in the National Football League Draft behind Peyton Manning. A finalist for the Heisman Trophy following his junior year, the future looked bright for the Great Falls, Mont., native.

However, dreams of a storied NFL career turned into a nightmare for the strong-armed 6-foot5-inch, 235-pound signal caller as issues involving bad behavior, injuries, work ethic and focus -- beyond poor play – limited his time as a pro to four nonproductive years.

Leaf went into a downward spiral, eventually ending up in prison for burglary and drug-related offenses – a period of time he referred to in his statement above.

Although he wasn’t able to survive in the world of professional football, Leaf has turned his life around – carving out a respected space throughout the United States as a motivational speaker and ambassador for sobriety.

He said he has been in recovery from substance use disorder for the past 11 years, and has devoted his life to helping others overcome the stigma of mental health and addiction as a program ambassador for Transcend Recovery Community and CEO/President of RAM Consultant, Inc.

Leaf, 47, is coming to Batavia in May to share his experiences, both triumph and challenges, and offer invaluable lessons in resilience and the power of determination.

“Asking for help is the strongest thing you’ll ever do,” Leaf says, referring to those struggling with substance use.

Leaf also works as a college football analyst for the ESPN network.

UConnectCare (formerly Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse) invites the public to attend his presentation, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 8 at Genesee Community College, Room T102.

To reserve your seat, call 585-815-1883 or send an email to by May 1.

Federal drug official endorses an 'all-in' approach to save those struggling with substance use disorder

By Mike Pettinella

State and local human services agencies, supported by the federal government, must pool their services to fight the scourge of substance use disorder that resulted in 108,000 overdose deaths last year, according to the general counsel of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“It’s no longer an ‘either or’ proposition, treatment instead of medication. We’re losing 100,000 people, so it’s everything and anything we can think of to get to people before they die,” said Rob Kent of Haymarket, Va., a Syracuse native who served as general counsel at the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports for 13 years prior to his appointment with the Biden administration.

Kent spoke at The Recovery Station on Clinton Street Road as guest of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, which kicked off its National Recovery Month activities this morning. About 30 people from GCASA and other organizations attended.

As a key figure in the adoption of the 150-page National Drug Control Strategy, Kent said his office has placed a high priority on harm reduction – principles and services that include prevention, testing, treatment and care, along with distribution of overdose reversal supplies such as naloxone kits (NARCAN), fentanyl test strips, sharps disposal and medication disposal kits, and sterile needles and syringes.

Kent said billions of dollars have been appropriated to this initiative.

“We were accused of being very heavy in the strategy of harm reduction by certain folks in Congress, but we have to be -- we've got to get to people before they die,” Kent said. “We need to get them connected.”

He added that he will use whatever laws are on the books in an effort to save lives.


“I'm completely uninterested in winning people's hearts and minds. We will force them to do what they need to do because the law helps us. They'll figure out, by the way, down the road, that it was the right thing to do on a human level,” he said. “They might not be there at the beginning … but they’ll figure it out when they're doing it.”

Kent said that he kept the goal of reducing drug overdose deaths at the forefront of his mind as he wrote the criminal justice section of the national strategy.

“I will say that I'm proud of the document; we believe it is a good blueprint,” he said. “We're going to go around the country trying to tell the folks what we think needs to be done to stop the number of people who are dying from drug overdose.”

He emphasized that law enforcement needs to stop arresting people for drug use or drug possession.

“It just doesn’t work and it has not worked,” he said. “It overwhelms the criminal justice system with folks they're really not equipped to deal with. We want people to be deflected, diverted. And we've written model laws for states. And I'm going to preach that everywhere I go. We ought to be offering help and services to those folks, whatever that might mean.”

Kent acknowledged that people with addictions will commit crimes, and those people may have been receiving counseling and medication-assisted-treatment in the community.


“We can't end that when they end up in a state and local jail. We have to continue that,” he said, noting that jails in Niagara, Monroe, Erie and other New York State counties are offering medications for opioid use disorder. “We need a plan and connections, before they reenter society … and we’re working on that across the nation.”

One of those connections locally is GCASA’s Reentry Program, which provides case management, peer recovery support and housing to individuals returning to the community after incarceration.

He said another priority is to “massively increase access to Naloxone.”

“Personally, I believe everybody ought to carry naloxone. And I say that everywhere I go, and some folks will say, ‘No, I don't need to carry that because I'm not around those kinds of people.’ And I politely say, ‘Well, you are.’”

Calling addiction “a human addiction,” Kent said it’s a matter of caring for others and showing love for those in need.

“I don’t like to throw numbers around because those are people (who have died),” he said. “Yesterday I spoke in Rochester, and a woman came up to me and gave me the mass card for her daughter. She was 27 years old and died in April. One time. It only takes once now.”


Kent was referring to the fentanyl epidemic that is being fueled by the cartels south of the border.

“Not only do I know what's happening on the demand side -- the treatment side, prevention, recovery and harm reduction, but I hear about what's coming in,” he said. “And it's scary. The cartels are now pressing fentanyl into fake pills, fake oxycontin, Adderall, Xanax, you name it. And most people don't even know it.”

He said folks will come in and say they’re using meth or using cocaine, “and when you test the drugs, it’s all fentanyl. That’s what’s going on.”

Kent credited the professionals at GCASA, mental health and other agencies who have invested their lives into seeing others recover and succeed.

“If you don't think that the staff in a program is pained when one of their folks who left dies, then you don't understand the programs,” he shared. “I've been to too many conferences where staff came up to me and talked to me about the trauma they were experiencing because people left treatment. Before, when people would leave (treatment), they were able to come back. They might not now.”

Photo: From left, Lynda Battaglia, director of Genesee County Mental Health & Community Services; Avi Israel, president and founder of Save the Michaels of the World, Inc., of Buffalo; Rob Kent, general counsel of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; John Bennett, executive director of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse; Danielle Figura, director of Community Services of Orleans County Department of Mental Health. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

Workshop Sept. 17 for families and friends of those struggling with substance use disorder

By Billie Owens

Press release:

Family Supported Recovery Half-Day Training: A Free Workshop for Family Members and Friends of those with a Substance Use Disorder

Join us for this free, informative, inspiring and educational workshop that has been specifically created for all of those that love someone who is struggling with a substance use disorder.

Taking a strength-based and compassionate approach, this workshop has been designed to support all friends and family in learning how to be a more effective and influential partner in their loved ones ongoing battle with addiction and early recovery. It also respectfully and empathically empowers you to give equal or greater focus to your sense of wellness, satisfaction and health.

Whether you use this information to improve your family relationships and/or choose to apply it to your own recovery, you will walk away with new thoughts, perspectives and skills!

If you are a parent, sibling, spouse, grandparent, aunt, uncle, adult child or friend and you are affected by a loved one's active substance use disorder or simply want to know how to best support your loved one's recovery, then this unique skills based workshop is for you.

Class is taught by Keith Greer or Lori Drescher of the Recovery Coach University. Limited space. Reserve your seat.

When: Tuesday, Sept. 17, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Where: Lake Plains Community Care Network 575 E. Main St., Batavia (Eastown Place, near Aldi, next to Family Dollar.)

The class is free. Registration is required by calling 585-345-6110. Please request by class name and date.

The class will be cancelled if less than 10 register.

This event is sponsored by the Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse -- GCASA.

Free workshop offered Sept. 11 for those working with clients of substance use disorder

By Billie Owens

Press release:

A six-hour workshop will be offered in Batavia on Sept. 11 for people working with those with substance use disorder.

It is titled "Taking a Coach Approach -- A Conversation for Change" and is intended for recovery peer professionals, counselors and clinicians.

Participants will have the opportunity to engage in and practice using evidence-based coaching strategies and tools relevant to their work.

The International Coach Federation defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

Coming from a strength base and client-centered perspective, coaching honors the individual in recovery/family member as the expert in his/her own life and believes that every individual is creative, resourceful, whole and fundamentally brilliant about their own lives.

Coaching addresses the entire person, challenging them to expand their definition of recoverywhile focusing on the “gap” between the quality and scope of their recovery today and wherethey would like their recovery to be tomorrow.

This free class is taught by Keith Greer or Lori Drescher of the Recovery Coach University. Limited space. Reservation required.

It will be offered from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 11, at Lake Plains Community Care Network, 575 E. Main St., Batavia. (In Eastown Plaza, near Aldi, next to Family Dollar.)

To register, call 585-345-6110 and request by class name and date.

Some of the topics to be included in this workshop include:

  • The use of both powerful questions and empathic reflections;
  • Using both a coaching plan and coaching contract;

  • Being "in the inquiry" vs. being "in the answer";

  • Moving away from a focus on “helper as the expert” to the role of coach who facilitates an inquiry based and action oriented process viewing their client as a resource (vs. object);

  • Practice with several established coaching tools.

This class is sponsored by Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse -- GCASA.

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