Number of fatal overdoses spike amid COVID-19 pandemic

Local

TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Rensselaer County is reporting eight fatal overdoses in the last two weeks, which is more than the amount of deaths the county has seen that are linked to COVID-19.

Rensselaer County Public Health Director Mary Fran Wachunas said the numbers are very concerning. She said the county has had 16 overdose deaths so far in 2020 compared to a total of ten last year.

Wachunas said, sadly, they did expect this to happen as many lives and routines are being disrupted. A lot of their jobs have been taken from them and they were on the road to recovery. 

“People are relapsing a lot. We’ve heard that from our treatment centers and detox centers,” said Wachunas.

Over in Berkshire County, the District Attorney’s Office and Northern Berkshire EMS have partnered up to get the message out that physical distancing poses an additional threat to those with substance use disorders. 

“Just as we sort of suspected we are starting to see trends of what we would believe are linked overdoses to the fact that people are alone,” said Stephen Murray, a paramedic supervisor for Northern Berkshire EMS.

Wachunas said those with substance abuse are used to going to support groups, which is why Wachunas and County Executive Steve McLaughlin said it’s important for people to know that those resources are still available.

“The safety net remains in place,” said McLaughlin.

The county has a number of helplines that can be accessed online or over the phone, as well as a curbside NARCAN delivery program.

Rensselaer County Recovery Helpline: 1 (833) 467-3123

Capital District AA Hotline: (518) 463-0906

Curbside NARCAN program: Text NARCAN to 21000

Wachunas also said many of the recent overdoses were linked to cocaine laced with fentanyl, and the county does offer free fentanyl test strips.

“We’re certainly not encouraging drug use, but understanding that it’s happening, we want to make sure that anybody using has the ability to test it if they want. It may stop them from doing it,” said McLaughlin.

Murray, a recovered opioid addict himself, is urging people not to use alone.

“One of the things I talk about in my PSA is an organization called Never Use Alone, which is an online/over the phone resource. If you don’t have someone or you’re with or you’re alone for some reason they’ll stay on the phone with you and if you stop responding they will activate the 911 system for you,” said Murray.

“We really need to be thinking in terms of harm reduction and not abstinence. The time to be pushing abstinence is not when people are feeling isolated and alone in their homes. This is not an easy time for the average person let alone some who struggles with substance abuse,” said Murray.

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