In June, the Rockefeller Institute hosted “Fighting Back,” a photography exhibition, panel discussion, and presentation of findings examining the creative, surprising, and extraordinary ways a rural community responds to the opioid epidemic.
“Hopefully these findings and this discussion will lead to a better result, where people have a chance to overcome whatever troubles they’re facing in a way that isn’t addiction and we solve this opioid crisis,” said Jim Malatras, president of the Rockefeller Institute.
Sullivan County, New York, has some of the state’s highest rates of opioid mortality. Rockefeller Institute researchers have been studying the epidemic on the ground there for more than 18 months, conducting well over 100 interviews with people on the frontlines of the crisis. They’ve found a community that is actively responding to the epidemic with the resources and tools at their disposal, from art and gardening to innovative partnerships with local government and law enforcement.
The Rockefeller Institute’s Assistant Director for Policy and Research Katie Zuber opened the forum with a presentation of the Institute’s findings to date, focusing on access to opioids in rural communities, unique challenges posed by rural geography, and staffing shortages.
The panel, moderated by the Rockefeller Institute’s Director for Policy and Research Patricia Strach, included five Sullivan County community members actively involved in responding to the opioid crisis:
+ Martin Colavito, project director of the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program – Planning Grant, president of ENGN, and chair of Sullivan Agencies Leading Together (SALT)
+ Sandra Cuellar Oxford, a citizen activist in the community
+ Guy Farina, detective sergeant for the Town of Montgomery Police Department, and law enforcement liaison for Hope Not Handcuffs – Hudson Valley
+ Barbara Gref, cofounder of the Kingfisher Project
+ Annette Kahrs, founder and president of the Tri-County Community Partnership, and program director for Hope Not Handcuffs – Hudson Valley
The Rockefeller Institute’s Stories from Sullivan series combines aggregate data analysis with on-the-ground research in affected communities to provide insight into what the opioid problem looks like, how communities respond, and what kinds of policies have the best chances of making a difference. Follow along here and on social media with the hashtag #StoriesfromSullivan.