As shutdown persists, substance abuse on the rise


ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — A mobile morgue outside the Albany County Jail was built to temporarily shelter bodies of COVID-19 victims. Instead, this week, it was used to store bodies of people who died from drug overdoses.

“There was some bad stuff that came through the Capital District. It wasn’t just Albany County, Rensselaer County got hit hard,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple.

Apple said drug overdoses are higher than deaths caused by COVID-19 at this point in the pandemic. Last week, there were 30 overdoses linked to fentanyl-laced cocaine in the course of 24 hours.

“I’m getting a lot of calls from different organizations saying we really need to get [Narcotics Anonymous] open, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, get them back open and I agree with them,” Apple said.

Many meeting spots are still shuttered due to New York’s state-wide shutdown.

Both Sheriff Apple and Charlie Mueller of Victory Church are advocating for the reopening of churches, which have programs to help those at risk of relapsing.

“We deal with a lot of broken people and they’re like, ‘Right now, I don’t know what to do.’ They’re struggling. I believe we could set up our churches safely,” Mueller said.

Medical Director of Addiction Services Jason Kirby has found an alternative. He’s moved meetings to digital platforms to reach out to the about 5,000 patients at their substance abuse programs throughout the region.

“One silver lining of this pandemic, if there is one, is that tele-medicine now is a reality,” Kirby said.

Kirby said he wants to continue virtual services and weigh which form of program, in-person or digital, can help a recovering addict.

“We still need to be very vigilant as a community … and not rest on our laurels,” Kirby said.

Sheriff Apple disagrees with the digital meetings. Both agree more attention during the pandemic needs to be placed on those struggling with addiction.

“There’s nothing like having somebody in the room face-to-face. You can just judge that person better,” Apple said. “Folks rely on going out and getting a lot of peer support, and that’s how a lot of them make it through it. Zoom is just not the same,” Apple said.

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