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More money needed to continue battle against opioid addiction, say local leaders

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The House of Representatives recently earmarked $501 million in funding for initiatives to address the opioid crisis, a $33 million increase from last year.

"Which is a pretty dramatic increase at a time when we're challenged fiscally," noted Congressman Joe Morelle, "so I think this indicates the type of priority the House places on the dollars for this."

Morelle is urging his Senate colleagues and President Donald Trump to support the additional funding. 

"This is not a situation where you have red states, blue states, wealthy, poor, middle class," the Democrat stressed. "Opioid addictions and other addictions touch everyone without regard to where you live, the ZIP code you live in, your socioeconomic status, so I'm hopeful the Senate will do the right thing."

The challenge, Morelle said, is the fact that the end of the current fiscal year -- September 30 -- is approaching, and unlike the House, the Senate has not yet finalized a 2020 appropriations package.

If the opioid funding gets the green light in the Senate and is signed by the president, local community organizations would be able to apply for state and local grants. Morelle hopes New York state will also kick in some matching funds.

The funding is crucial to grassroots groups like ROCovery Fitness, which is looking to add paid staff members after relying on mostly volunteers in its first five years.

John Westfall manages the organization's peer support program. He said people who are overcoming addiction need a variety of options so they can find one that works for them.

"It's not a one-size-fits-all answer anymore the way it's been since the 1930s, since the advent of 12-step," he explained. "That's pretty much all we've had until recently. And now there are so many more resources, particularly in Rochester. I think we're a resource-rich community."

The trend of overdoses and fatal overdoses has stabilized in Monroe County, but Sheriff Todd Baxter said those numbers could spike at any time.

"These folks that are in an addictive state are in a fight for their life and literally for the rest of their life," said Baxter. "This does not go away with an arrest; this does not go away with one time in a treatment program. We need to have the right quantity of people and the right funding sources to support these people."

So far this year, 45 deaths have been attributed to opioid overdoses in Monroe County. In 2018, there were 166 reported fatalities.

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.