Thomas Ventura had everything that counts in life: a loving and supportive family, enough friends to fill a photograph album and that one intangible, happiness. Thomas Ventura died March 14, 2012, from an overdose, ironically one day after returning home from a three-week stint at a rehabilitation center. He was 21.
“He had failed at outpatient,” his mother, Linda Ventura, said at the Legislative Office Building in Albany on Tuesday. “He failed, but rock bottom is not rock bottom. Rock bottom is death. There’s no coming back from death.”
Ventura joined Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-67; Sen. Pete Harckham, D-40; and John Coppola, executive director of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Providers of New York State Inc. for a rally Tuesday afternoon to highlight state efforts to stop opioid abuse and underscore what is still needed to combat the epidemic.
The group advocated for resources, prevention, treatment — any kind of support to help people find recovery in their lives. Coppola asked the audience to think of how much work could be done with additional resources. The speakers called on state officials to increase the amount of money in the 2020-21 proposed executive budget to address the state’s opioid epidemic by investing in community-based programs.
The group’s current mission: Fighting for 3% additional support for community-based drug and substance abuse organizations for the next five years.
New York had 3,224 overdose deaths in 2017 — a rate of 16.1 deaths per 100,000 people compared to the average national rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The crisis has swept the state, including Columbia and Greene counties, with increasing numbers over the last decade.
The greatest rise occurred among synthetic opioid-involved deaths, predominantly caused by fentanyl, with 2,238 deaths reported in 2017, up from 210 fatalities in 2013. More funds are necessary across the board for outreach, recovery, education and prevention programs. This will start by returning to the concept that addiction is an illness, not a crime, and the foundation for helping addicts is support and treatment.
This mission is not impossible.