Q&A with Eric Bresee

By Mary Beth Roach

Director of Farnham Family Services in Oswego discusses his agency’s mission, how COVID-19 made situation of substance abuse disorder worse and how he measures the success of his organization

Q: Can you briefly describe the work of Farnham Family Services?

A: It is an organization that works to prevent and treat substance abuse disorder. We do that through various community and school-based prevention programs; comprehensive outpatient treatment; recovery support services — this includes peer support and vocation education — and harm reduction approaches to recovery.

Q: How many clients do you serve?

A: There are currently approximately 700 individuals admitted to our outpatient clinics.

Q: What is your service area?

A: Currently Oswego County, but we’re also working towards the development of an opioid treatment program in Auburn.

Q: How many staff members do you oversee?

A: 90.

Q: How big is your budget and how are you funded?

A:  It’s about an $8 million-a-year budget, primarily funded by federal, state and local grants, as well as insurance billing for outpatient treatment services.

Q: You came in as executive director in 2015. What programs have you implemented at Farnham that you are most proud of?

A: When I started, it was November 2015. Farnham, at that time, had 20 employees and about a $1.8 million budget. That was the time when the opioid epidemic was really starting to surge in our community. One of the first initiatives that we launched was to develop the opioid treatment program in Oswego, which provides medication-assisted treatment for people with opioid-use disorder. There was a significant need for that with the level of overdoses and people that were struggling with addiction to opioids. We started that in 2017 out of our Oswego clinic. That clinic now serves around 260 patients.

And we just opened another opioid treatment program location in our Mexico clinic. We’re starting to work to open in Auburn by the end of the year.

Opioid treatment programming has been a big focus for us. Peer support services is another area we’ve really grown. We started with one certified recovery peer advocate in 2016. We now have eight that provide recovery supports all across Oswego County.

Q: In the six or seven years that you have served as executive director, has there been an increase in addiction, and if so, what do you think is causing that increase?

A: I can comment on coming through the pandemic, there was a lot of isolation for folks. If you had a family that had any sort of trouble, whether it be abuse, or domestic violence, or even something simple like challenging communication— just different challenging family dynamics — we’re going to put that family dysfunction in a pressure cooker over COVID, where we’ve got everyone in the house, packed away together, more disconnected from typical support systems, normal routines. I think that ended up driving a lot of substance use disorder and mental health conditions, like anxiety, depression. 

What we’ve seen is a surge in people coming for alcohol-use disorders. Opioid-use disorder has been the primary substance treated at Farnham since I’ve been there. Opioid-use disorder in 2014 was about 35% of the primary substance served. By 2018 that grew to 59%, so almost 60% of the people we were seeing were for opioid-use disorder. Alcohol-use disorder had dropped to 19%. There’s been a surge in the last couple of years where alcohol-use disorder is now up to 35% and opioid-use disorder has dropped to 41%.

Q: Have there been changes on the state or national level that have been enabled you and your staff to better serve your clients perhaps?

A: In recent years, I think there’s been a recognition in coming through COVID of the significant level of need. You probably saw some of the articles coming out about the record level of overdoses that we’ve had nationwide for 2019 and continued into 2020. With that recognition of need has come more funding. We’ve been the fortunate recipient of a good amount of that money. That’s really allowed us to do the expansions I was speaking to with opioid treatment programs, increasing the amount of peer supports, and our prevention services.

Q: In an article a few months ago, you mentioned that you’re seeing a shift in your clients and that more people are coming in on their own as opposed to being court-ordered. Do you see this as a continuing trend?

A: I do see it as a continuing trend. We see a lot more people coming in and saying, ‘I need some help.’ Medication-assisted treatment is a lot more prevalent and available now. And that’s particularly helpful if you are struggling with opioid addiction.

Q: Is there a take-away from that — in that more people are recognizing on their own that they need help?

A: I hope so. I hope we’re continuing to reduce the stigma associated with substance-use disorder. It’s a medical condition. We’ve really got to continue to work to defeat the shame that’s associated with it, and really continue to encourage people that if they need help or their struggling in any way, to come in and get help. We also provide services to loved ones of people with substance use disorders. If you have someone in your life that’s struggling with addiction, and it’s impacting you negatively, that makes you eligible for outpatient therapeutic services at Farnham.

Q: How do you measure the success of your programming?

A: We’re helping people to get healthier. Folks are coming out feeling better than they did coming in, if they’re achieving more of their goals, they’re happier, they’re healthier. That’s on the treatment side. On the prevention side, I look at — are we helping kids make better choices, have better self-esteem; are those pro-social factors becoming more prevalent in the young people we’re trying to help? Do they have better refusal skills? Do they have good connections with parents, teachers, other adult role models? Those are the sorts of things that we try to infuse on the prevention side in order to keep young people from using, delaying the onset of use, and hopefully avoiding any sort of addiction or substance-use disorder down the road.

Anyone looking for help or more information can call the area resource center at 315-413-4676 or go to NYproblemgambling.org or nyproblemgamblinghelp.org. Under the “Find Help” tab is a map of New York state. Select your region and see the different ways to contact a resource center and other helpful information.