By Philip Gambini

Nov. 8, 2016 – Niagara County has the highest rate of drug addicted newborns in the entire state.

According to data from the state Department of Health, the county registered 264 infants born with a drug-related diagnosis per 10,000 births.

That statistic dwarfs even New York City boroughs like Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan, which recorded about one-fifth of the local rate.

A group of regional civic organizations, led by Community Missions of Niagara Frontier, will gather Thursday at Harry F. Abate Elementary from 5:30 to 7 p.m. to host a forum with input from the public in an attempt to determine the causes, with particular focus on mental health and drug abuse in young women.

Sheila Kee, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center’s COO, presented the figures Monday as part of a press conference to raise awareness for this week’s symposium.

“Why is this? What is going on in the community? What is leading to such a high rate of newborn babies who are born to this world with a drug addiction?” Kee said.

The group, which includes representatives of health organizations throughout Niagara and Erie counties, will look to identify what assistance can be provided to women with issues of mental health and drug addiction.

“Working with the community, we’re going to be able to solve it, I believe,” Kee said.

The task force also includes the Millennium Care Collaborative of Erie County, a region not far behind Niagara’s rate, with 238 infants born with drug related affects per 10,000 residents. The figure is among the highest in the state as well.

Kimberly Backey, a representative of Millennium, said Monday that a primary obstacle the group will look to address first is a reluctance to speak up about issues of drug addiction and mental health.

Individuals experiencing such circumstances need to feel “empowered” to help themselves, Backey said, which comes after “saying its okay to talk about mental health and substance abuse.”

A second barrier, according to Clement Kwakye, a site director for the Community Health Center of Buffalo with an office on Highland Avenue, is making education on these subjects accessible.

“We also want to break the barrier and educate the community of Niagara Falls so individuals know exactly where to go,” he said of those who have decided to confront drug or mental health related issues.

Outside of the input of the group’s health care representatives – including members of the Community Health Center of Niagara, Mental Health Association in Niagara County, the county’s Department of Mental Health, the medical center, addiction service provider Northpointe Council, P2 Collaborative – Kee said “the more important part of the program on Thursday is the community input.”

“This is truly a community conversation. There’s no preconceived notions here,” she said. “Our goal is to be able to put together a work plan that is based on community input.”



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