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Fight against heroin epidemic takes a grass-roots turn

Families of heroin and other opiate addicts started meeting last year in Amherst and the Town of Tonawanda to offer each other support.

Some 500 people last week packed Buffalo’s North Park Theatre for a town hall-style meeting on the deadly epidemic.

And as many as 200 people are expected to attend a meeting in a Depew church Wednesday in search of answers.

All of this represents a grass-roots response to the epidemic killing hundreds of local residents and a belief that government alone cannot solve the problem.

“The reality is we need to fight this as a community,” said Joe Kwiatkowski, who is the “recovery pastor” at Restoration Church Twin Village in Depew.

Health officials, drug treatment experts and police encourage this citizen participation.

“We know that opioid addiction is a pervasive health problem and many families are affected, some experiencing the death of a loved one, and that is why Erie County government is hoping communities come together to fight this disease and take actions to reduce adverse health outcomes and help those who have suffered losses with support,” Erie County Health Commissioner Gale R. Burstein said.


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The purpose of “Community Hope Night” at CenterPointe Church next Wednesday is to educate loved ones of addicts on ways they can help the addicted while not enabling them. In addition, the meeting will be a time for the family members to find solace while encountering the often troubling and uncharacteristic behaviors by addicts.

All of that will not be accomplished in one evening. That’s why organizers plan to use the meeting as a springboard for the start of a 12-step support group.

“We have to offer hope to the community and education can lead to prevention and that is the ultimate goal,” said Mike White, who is part of a recovery leadership team at Restoration Church that organized the event and decided to hold it at CenterPointe Church, a larger venue.

The group will be patterned after other 12-step programs, which embrace a spiritual aspect, White explained. “For us, the spiritual component is Jesus Christ,” he said, but added that individuals of other faiths are invited to participate.

Representatives from the Depew Police Department, Horizon Health Services, Kids Escaping Drugs and People Against Trafficking Humans Inc. will be at the meeting.

“There isn’t one magical solution. It will take all of us participating to help with prevention and early intervention,” said Anne Constantino, president and chief executive officer of Horizon. “We often lose sight of the recognition that recovery is possible.”

Avi Israel, who organized the gathering at North Park Theatre, encouraged residents to attend Wednesday’s event.

“I think it’s fantastic. You want people to be aware of the consequences of addiction,” said Israel, whose son Michael took his own life in 2011 while in the throes of opioid painkiller addiction. “Anything that will help a person or their loved ones fight addiction is a wonderful thing. Everyone has to find their niche of what works for them and use that to their advantage.”

The event at CenterPointe Church, 56 Burlington Ave., Depew, will be from 6:30 to 8 p.m.