In Rochester, people rally for better addiction treatment

Kelly Sciarratta was in a jail cell awaiting arraignment when she had what she called a “thunder strike moment.”

“It was the first time in a long time that I missed being like other people,” Sciarratta said as she talked about her experiences with a substance use disorder.

She said the loss of friendships and the disconnect from her family were what compelled her to seek help.

“The opposite of using is not abstinence or sobriety. It is connection,” she said.

Now seven years into her recovery, Sciarratta credits the accepting environment of the syringe exchange program at Trillium Health as the basis of her recovery.

“That was the first place that I ever felt that I was seen and not stared down,” she said.

She recalled how the receptionist at Trillium Health would greet her with a smile and a sandwich.

Sciarratta called it an “unspoken rule” that clients like her who were craving a fix could use on the premises.

She said Trillium kept her from getting any long-term infections, and jump-started her recovery by providing structure without judgment.

“When you give us structure, compassion and care, without that finger-wagging, authoritative criminalization part of it, you’re gonna get people recovering from their own free will,” she said.

That strategy would receive funding and support from the Safer Consumption Spaces Act, a state bill that is drawing support from leaders in Monroe County.

Over a dozen people, including political officials and drug treatment advocates, rallied at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Rochester on Thursday to endorse the act and a separate bill that would decriminalize the opioid-use disorder treatment drug buprenorphine.

The bill would help the county establish overdose prevention centers as a means of harm reduction for people who are struggling with substance use disorders. Individuals who use these centers will access clean needles, free testing, and the resources and support needed to begin recovery.

“There has never been a fatal overdose at any OPC,” said Trillium Health’s director of community health initiatives, Julie Ritzler-Shelling. “Instead, there has been increased access to treatment.”

New York City adopted the model in 2021. The Guardian reported on its success at preventing overdose deaths earlier this year. Shelling cited other success metrics, like a reduction in HIV and hepatitis C cases and minimizing syringe litter in public places.

Racquel Stephen

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WXXI News

Rochester Council member Kim Smith speaks in favor of overdose prevention centers, a substance use disorder program that has prevented deaths in New York City.

Elected officials like Rochester Council member Kim Smith said opposition is rooted in stigma about drug use. “We cannot depend on their morality to bring us out of this, we have to legislate our way out of this,” Smith said.

The bills are currently in committees. Advocates are urging lawmakers to schedule a vote as soon as possible.

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