September 27, 2019

Community Explores Local Solutions in the Opioid Crisis at SUNY Empire State College and Rockefeller Institute of Government Forum

Research, Education, Health Care, and Law Enforcement Professionals Emphasize Greater Communication and Collaboration as Critical Next Steps

Patricia Strach, interim executive director of the Rockefeller Institute and lead researcher on the Institute’s long-term study of the opioid epidemic, presented a keynote address on the effects of the opioid epidemic in rural communities.

(SARATOGA SPRINGS, New York – Sept. 27, 2019) Community leaders in Saratoga Springs and beyond explored local, evidence-based strategies for addressing the opioid epidemic at a forum hosted by SUNY Empire State College and the Rockefeller Institute of Government yesterday.

"It takes all of us working together on this issue,” said SUNY Empire President Jim Malatras, who delivered opening remarks. “I’m glad to see so many SUNY Empire students and faculty members in the audience, along with members from local law enforcement, health care, and other areas of the community. They’re all finding ways now to really target and combat this crisis.”

Patricia Strach, interim executive director of the Rockefeller Institute and lead researcher on the Institute’s long-term study of the opioid epidemic, presented a keynote address on the effects of the opioid epidemic in rural communities and how those communities are responding.

“Those working on the front lines say that, more than money, they need policy officials to better understand what they are going through,” said Strach. “Despite the ‘deaths of despair’ headlines in the news, people living in communities affected by opioids are not giving up and neither should we."

Strach and her colleagues at the Institute have been studying the epidemic in rural New York for nearly two years, publishing their work in the ongoing Stories from Sullivan series.

Strach’s keynote was followed by a panel discussion and a question-and-answer session with the audience. Panelists included Thalia MacMillan, associate professor and mentor of community and human services at SUNY Empire State College; Dr. Renee Rodriguez-Goodemote, medical director of the Saratoga Hospital Community Health Center; and City of Saratoga Springs Police Department Sergeant Tim Sicko.

Earlier this summer, SUNY Empire began offering a first-of-its-kind Bachelor of Science in Addiction Studies to help address the urgent need for qualified substance use disorder treatment specialists in New York state.

“Our students tell us what is needed to address addiction and begin the process of recovery,” said MacMillan. “The experience of our faculty in many disciplines, including criminal justice, social work, emergency services, and children and family services, provided the foundation for our new B.S. in Addiction Studies.” MacMillan is an EMT in addition to her position at SUNY Empire State College. She recently published an edited work about the co-occurrence of addictions and mental health in the community.

Rodriguez-Goodemote said that there are resources, such as the Saratoga Prevention Council’s peer-led Healing Springs Recovery Community and Outreach Center in Saratoga, which have had success connecting people to care, as well as providing support to those recovering from many forms of addiction. Local agencies including mental health, public health, law enforcement, and others are working together to increase services within Saratoga County. Communication and collaboration in the community are important factors in dealing with addiction. At Saratoga Hospital, she has worked with medical staff to develop a protocol for safer opiate prescribing, this includes working with the Saratoga Hospital Emergency Department in accessing medication-assisted treatment for patients.

“The hardest thing to do is to tell a loved one that a young person has died due to a heroin overdose,” said Sicko. “By strengthening the police department’s relationships with other community organizations, we can do much more than make an arrest. We can provide pathways to other organizations for those that need help.”

Sicko has more than 25 years of law enforcement experience, including 20 years with Saratoga Springs. He has spent most of his Saratoga Springs career in the police department’s Investigation Division, working as an investigator and supervisor in the Criminal and Special Investigations Unit.

Images from today’s forum are available.

Watch the Institute’s Stories from Sullivan video.

About the Rockefeller Institute of Government

The Rockefeller Institute of Government is the public policy research arm of the State University of New York. The Institute conducts cutting-edge research and analysis to inform lasting solutions to the problems facing New York state and the nation.  |  @RockefellerInst

About SUNY Empire State College

SUNY Empire State College educates more than 17,000 students in person, online, and through a blend of both, at more than 30 locations in New York and at eight international sites worldwide. Together with one of SUNY Empire’s more than 1,300 faculty mentors, each student designs their own individualized pathway to a college degree that accommodates their schedule and awards credit for prior college-level learning. SUNY Empire awards more than 3,000 degrees annually and 94 percent of graduates stay in New York state. Today, more than 87,000 SUNY Empire alumni are entrepreneurs, veterans, and active members of the military, professional athletes, teachers, medical professionals, and leaders in their field, as well as in their communities. To learn more, visit and follow the college on social media @SUNYEmpire.