MAYVILLE – Officials often say that the only way to combat the opioid epidemic is to build a united front that consists of people from all walks of life.
Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello started the Countywide Alliance for Enforcement and Rehabilitation (CAER) this year in an attempt to address the opioid epidemic. In an interview with WNYNewsNow Monday morning, Borrello said he’s “very proud” of the people who are a part of the initiative.
“I’m very proud of the group that came together from a broad spectrum of people that are working on the opioid epidemic,” Borrello said. “This started off with three groups, and we converged them to two groups from everything from law enforcement to people working in healthcare, people working on recovery and rehabilitation, peer groups, schools education.”
“All of these folks came together and began communicating, and from the very beginning, they were sharing influence, sharing ideas, and we started seeing a positive impact from that.”
Because of the communication, the CAER Task Force has made recommendations for Borrello to consider. One of the recommendations includes the combining of the two county drug task forces, the Southern Tier Regional Drug Task Force and Jamestown Metro Drug Task Force.
Borrello said the first step to combining the forces is to have dialogue between the two forces.
“(The combining) starts with an open and honest conversation, which we had in these meetings,” Borrello said. “The first thing we’ve learned is there’s no communication between those two drug task forces, which I think is an issue, and a dangerous one.”
“I think if we take a good, in depth look at this, and with the cooperative effort of both groups, that there is a way, if not to completely merge them, that there’s a sharing of information and, perhaps, kind of a modification to each of the groups so that they include folks from each side that are becoming part of the other task force.”
Borrello also discussed the recommendation that the District Attorney’s office hires an investigator to assist the new special narcotics prosecutor. Borrello said he believes the idea is worth considering.
“I think (an investigator) is something definitely worth looking at, and there’s a cost involved,” Borrello said. “But having an investigator that can work across all law enforcement agencies throughout the county to better, and more quickly, investigate crimes so that they can be prosecuted in a more efficient manner.”
“Ultimately, when we look at this, and we look at the efficiency involved in having a drug investigator in the DA’s office, we may find out that the cost is not as much as we anticipated.”
Borrello said that another recommendation involves the merging of the Departments of Health and Human Services and Mental Hygiene. The goal, Borrello said, is to make sure that efforts aren’t being repeated.
“The idea is, ‘How do we make sure we aren’t duplicating efforts? How do we ensure that we’re doing things as efficient as possible?’,” Borrello said. “It was a major mandate for the CAER group to figure out how we can better and more efficiently use our limited resources to attack the drug epidemic.”
“Having a re-branded mental hygiene department that’s folded in underneath our human services department is certainly an idea that came out of this. It’s certainly going to require a lot of due diligence on my part, the part of others, including the Legislature, to determine if that is the best path.”
Borrello said that, before the information was released to the media, he had conversations with the department heads who’d potentially be affected. The County Executive said that the proposed changes are only in the preliminary stages, as officials examine the feasibility.
“I think everyone is looking at this at a positive and constructive manner, so far,” Borrello said. “These folks were all involved in the task force. I’m very proud of everybody for them being so involved and open-minded as we look forward to some potential sweeping changes that could be made.”
The other recommendations are as followed:
- Beginning the process to research the potential to open a crime lab in Chautauqua County servicing the Southern Tier of New York and areas within the State of Pennsylvania. This would allow the task force to further review the possibility of establishing a crime lab in the county, which would allow evidence to be processed and analyzed quickly for prosecution.
- Entering into an agreement with the Erie County, Pennsylvania Coroner’s Office to share information concerning autopsy results of Chautauqua County residents who die in Erie, PA area hospitals. When a Chautauqua County victim of a drug overdose is transferred to Erie for treatment and later dies as a result of the overdose, death information is not routinely shared between Erie County and Chautauqua County. By entering into an agreement with Erie County, it would allow local authorities to better conduct investigations against the person who supplied the victim with drugs.