When Schenectady police Officer Timothy Rizzo joined the force eight years ago, he’d see one or two overdoses reported each month. These days, he said, the department responds to several each week.
In an effort to combat drug addiction and the heroin epidemic within the city, the Schenectady Police Department is partnering with a local organization that meets monthly to discuss those issues.
Rizzo and Sgt. Matt Dearing spoke before a film screening Tuesday night of “Generation Found,” which tells the story of a small town’s effort to combat youth drug addiction. The event was sponsored by TEAM Schenectady, and drew an audience of about 30 people at Bow Tie Cinemas on State Street.
Police Chief Eric Clifford was scheduled to speak, but was unable to attend at the last minute.
TEAM Schenectady was started in 2016 as a community organization focused on addressing the heroin epidemic and other drug issues within the city. The group was already working with the New York National Guard Counterdrug Task Force prior to partnering with SPD.
Dearing said the department has seen an uptick in the last year or so in opioid addiction and overdoses.
“The big push now is the education aspect,” he told the crowd. “With drugs becoming more easily available, the best thing we can do is educate people.”
Education can be particularly valuable in keeping drugs away from youth who might become addicted at a young age, Dearing said.
In one of his State of the State addresses on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled a six-part plan aimed at fighting the state’s opioid and heroin epidemic. It includes adding fentanyl to the list of controlled substances, and creating recovery high schools — a concept discussed in “Generation Found”— in New York.
Megan Eden, chairwoman of TEAM Schenectady, said the group is still in its infancy, but had a good initial response from local leaders when it was founded. The group meets monthly at City Hall in an attempt to raise awareness about heroin addiction within the city.
As part of the partnership between the Police Department and TEAM Schenectady, Eden said, a lieutenant will attend the group’s monthly meetings.
“I don’t think we as a coalition could really move forward without the Police Department’s support,” Eden said in an interview. “This is something that not only affects us as community members, but them as law enforcement.”
Those who attended the film screening were asked to fill out a survey, and had the chance to ask the police officers in attendance questions.
“Addiction is something that touches everyone’s lives,” Eden said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated how often TEAM Schenectady meets. The organization meets monthly.