As the spotlight continues to reveal the size of the problem, opiate addiction is generating more conversation. The topic drew the community together at a forum Wednesday night at Kenmore West High School.
The title of last night's public forum -"You Are Not Alone" - may have summed up the opiate abuse problem that is impacting many area communities, regardless of ethnicity or income levels.
Christine Latham, Buffalo director of the Foundation for a Drug-Free World, explained how quickly today's youth can be consumed by drugs.
"I'm 46 and the drugs today are not the drugs of my childhood. So it's not just like marijuana, it's not just like alcohol, it's not just like cocaine," said Latham. "You may go to a party. You may have that pill. You may walk away from that with an addiction for the rest of your life."
Keri Lock of Save the Michaels of the World shared the story of her 15-year-old son who was injured in a bicycle accident. He started with prescription painkillers before slipping into heroin addiction.
"I was very isolated and didn't realize how many other people were experiencing something similar, and discovered that there were groups of us experiencing very similar things," said Lock. "So I started reaching out and helping people. We come together as a group to help other people to maybe not experience the traumas that we've gone through."
The forum was sponsored by Save the Michaels of the World, Horizon Health Services, the Village of Kenmore and the City and Town of Tonawanda.
The forum drew a variety of perspectives and concerns regarding the growing opiate abuse epidemic. Some said the easy availability of prescription painkillers gave rise to the epidemic.
One man, who identified himself as a patient of Dr. Eugene Gosy, defended the physician who is accused of filling out thousands of illegeal prescriptions.
"He took me off medications that neurosurgeons had me on - fentanyl patch 40 times what is stronger than heroin - and got me off oxycodone and put me on the lightest amount of medication using with my stimulator. "
Forum organizers say they want to eliminate the shame felt by addicts and their families. They are calling on communities to focus instead on prevention and treatment.
Several elected officials, including County Executive Mark Poloncarz, were on hand to hear all opinions voiced.