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Niagara County Opioid Task Force, Niagara Falls School District team up to help others battle addiction

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Thu, May 9th 2019 04:45 pm
Niagara County Legislator Rebecca Wydysh speaks at a press conference Thursday. (Submitted photo)
Niagara County Legislator Rebecca Wydysh speaks at a press conference Thursday. (Submitted photo)

Earlier today, the Niagara County Opioid Task Force (OASIS) joined school administrators and art students from Niagara Falls High School to unveil the “Bus Bench Project.”

As one drives through the streets of Niagara Falls, one is likely to see brightly colored, eye-catching signs on many of the bus benches promoting the Niagara County Opioid Task Force’s tag line “There is Help. There is Hope. Recovery is Possible.”

These bus benches are one of the strategies the Opioid Task Force’s public awareness subcommittee is engaging in to advance its goal of reducing the stigma placed on those with the disease of substance abuse disorder, and reducing the barriers people face in engaging mental health and substance abuse disorder recovery.

Because young people are significantly impacted by the opioid crisis, the public awareness subcommittee, led by Niagara County Legislator Owen Steed and the Niagara County Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services Deputy Director Myrla Gibbons Doxey, sought to engage local youth in efforts to combat the crisis. Through collaborative efforts with the Niagara Falls City School District Advanced Placement art class, taught by Robert Lynch, students created attention-grabbing graphic designs to highlight the core message the bus benches convey.

Local data over the past eight years indicates the top two age groups impacted most by the opioid crisis are 20-29 and 30-39, with the average age of death between 32 and 34.

Gibbons Doxey said, "The youth of our community can play a critical role in prevention by helping to educate themselves and others about the dangers of misusing prescription opioid medications and helping to end the stigma that is attached to the disease of substance abuse disorder and mental illness.”

Niagara Falls City School District Superintendent Mark Laurrie, a member of the public awareness subcommittee, offered his district’s resources in order to complete this task.

“Mental health wellness is a priority for the Niagara Falls City School District,” he said. “The link between mental health concerns and the disease of substance abuse disorder is undeniable, and creating awareness of both – and the connection between the two – is imperative to save lives. Since our high school students are approaching the ages where we’re seeing the highest number of opioid overdose deaths, it is important to get them involved in this issue.

“This bus bench art project is a stellar way to include our young people. I couldn’t be more proud of them. They took to this project and made it happen.”

Lynch and his AP art students used their creativity and skills to devise the current bus bench graphics. Three different graphics are placed in seven locations throughout Niagara Falls. The bright graphics and messaging encourage people of all ages who are in need to reach out, any time, to crisis services at 716-285-3515, for free, confidential assistance.

“The students and I were proud to use the arts to address this heavy public health issue in a positive way,” Lynch said. “It led to some deep and meaningful conversations about this serious problem.”

Niagara County Legislator Rebecca Wydysh, chairwoman of the Niagara County Opioid Task Force, stressed the optimism embedded in the tag-line: “There is Help. There is Hope. Recovery is Possible.”

“While we recognize the undeniable harsh reality of substance abuse disorder, we also need to highlight that many people in our community have been successful in overcoming their adversities and many more will do the same,” she said. “We are excited to showcase the talent of our local students and to help spread our task force message of help and hope.”

“We want to thank Mr. Lynch and his AP art class for giving us the generosity of their time and talent that they put into this project,” Steed said. “We see in times of bad that we can come together to make certain situations better in our communities.”

In addition to the “Bus Bench Project,” the public awareness subcommittee, in cooperation with the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, provided another series of free opioid overdose rescue (Narcan) trainings the week of April 15. Peer recovery coach trainings are being coordinated to be offered to those who may also be interested in becoming a one with Save the Michaels of the World Inc. Visit the Niagara County Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Facebook page, or call the NCDMH administrative office at 716-439-7410 for more information.

If you or a loved one is in need, please reach out to Niagara County Crisis Services at 716-285-3515, any time of the day, for support and assistance.

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