As the harsh reality of the opioid abuse continues to emerge, more communities are gathering in a search for solutions. Last night's forum at Bennett High School examined how the abuse problem is interconnected with mental health issues.
The meeting, entitled Buffalo Health Matters!...A Community Conversation, featured a variety of agencies offering help and insight.
"In the Black Community, we don't talk about mental illness openly enough and that's what tonight is about," said Millennium Collaborative Care Executive Director Al Hammonds.
"Let's get it all out on the table. Let's talk about it. Let's deal with what the issues are, the real issues are."
Hammonds says a key goal of his agency is to get people better mental health care by connecting them with available resources. By accessing those resources, wasteful visits to the emergency room can be avoided.
Police have become accustomed to dealing with mental health issues.
"People come to me from all over and the best thing I can do is just refer them to share the benefit of the knowledge of the access and the resources that I have knowledge of due to my profession," said Buffalo Police Lieutenant Stacy Lewis Beauford, who served as an event moderator.
"It's as simple as a referral which is the point of our having this fair today which brought the resources and the providers right here."
Members of the clergy were in attendance, expressing their concerns. While he is now known as a Common Council member, Ulysees Wingo also serves as associate minister of Faith Baptist Church. He shared the story of struggle of one of his staff members.
"We didn't know he had mental health problems until he took off for three weeks to get mental health treatment. Then we found out that he was schizophrenic."
The Mental Health Association of Erie County runs special training programs just for clergy members to teach what symptoms to look for and explain what resources are out there to help.
Also on hand last night was Doctor Jeffrey Grace, clinical director at Buffalo Psychiatric Center, who says his facility now has around 150 patients. That's down from 3,000.
"The good news is that even with that level of difficulty or challenge, everybody does better and most patients get out of the hospital and do well," Grace said.
"I' m always encouraged that mental illness like everything is recoverable and most patients do very, very well."