GLENS FALLS — Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan is proposing to start a committee at the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce to help employers connect with people recovering from addiction who are seeking jobs.
“Somebody is going to be a way better person and way more successful in recovery if they are gainfully employed,” he said Wednesday during a panel discussion held at the Queensbury Hotel. About 100 people attended the event, which was sponsored by the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Jordan said he got this idea because of the people he sees that have been through the Washington County Drug Court. Many of them are able to keep jobs after going through the program and are working in retail, in dentist’s and doctor’s offices and manufacturing plants.
He told of a young man who lacked a purpose in life. While going through drug court, he found a job at a bottle redemption center, and that job has put the man on the right track.
“He counts bottles for a living and he does it with passion. Why? Because someone took a chance on him,” Jordan said.
Jordan said the county has a staffer who helps people develop life skills that would help in this effort.
Warren County District Attorney Jason Carusone said he agreed that people in recovery need to work. When someone is about to enter a guilty plea, the judge always asks the defendant how far they went in school and what they do for work. Many of them are unemployed.
“Some of them are extremely capable,” he said.
Chamber President Michael Bittel said he looks forward to getting the committee going to help people in recovery.
“These people are looking for hope and these businesses can provide not only hope, but help in a new life,” he said.
Bittel said his goal is to start the committee by June 1.
The chamber hosted the forum to inform its members about the heroin problem — how it got to this point and what the future holds. Other participants were Warren County Undersheriff Shawn Lamouree, Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy, Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo, Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen and addiction activist Judy Moffitt.
Zurlo said the heroin problem is not going away. The number of overdose deaths increased from 2017 to 2018 and the victims ranged in age from 24 to 68.
“I thought it would go down. It’s not,” he said.
Moffitt said she has attended too many funerals of young people lost to addiction, some of whom had been her students. Her son served time in jail for selling drugs.
“Just being a family member of someone who has addiction is crippling. There’s nothing like it. Every day you wonder if that person is going to be alive the next day,” she said.
Moffitt said she turned her pain into a purpose. The victims all have stories.
“We all need to address this and not look at them as ‘those people.’ We are those people,” she said.
Moffitt said, as she was making her remarks, her son was on his way to Ohio to participate in the Arnold Schwarzenegger power lifting competition.
Lack of treatment is a problem, she said. Addicts need more than a 23-day program; they need treatment over a sustained period of time.
“So many people think: You went to treatment, you should be all better. That’s not how it works,” she said.
Heggen agreed that people need support after they finish their formal program through organizations such as Healing Springs, a center in Saratoga Springs that supports people in recovery.
Lamouree said it is a public health issue.
“This is not something that law enforcement is ever going to be able to arrest our way out of,” he said. “We can put all the cops out there, with all kinds of money and all kinds of enforcement, it’s not going to solve the problem.”
Lamouree said he would not have believed 20 years ago that his officers would be carrying life-saving medicine on them as part of their uniform, but they are. Since January, officers have intervened in six overdoses — in four, they were able to reverse the effects, but in two, the person died, he said.
Murphy said he knew the region had a problem when the number of female inmates increased to the point that some of them had to be boarded out to other counties. All had been locked up for opioid-related crimes.
The number of bags of heroin seized in traffic stops has increased, Murphy said — to 1,000 bags in one case.
Bittel said the business community has to be engaged on the issue.
“It’s affecting good people. It’s affecting our neighbors. It’s affecting each and every one of us in some form or fashion,” Bittel said.
Partnerships are needed, he said.
“You can’t solve everything through government. You need solid partners —nonprofits, businesses to really make things work throughout the community,” Bittel said.