SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Police always keep a watchful eye on drug crimes and overdoses, but never more intensely than during the pandemic.

“We have been tracking the data on overdoses a lot more closely, especially since the pandemic. The department is doing a much better job of keeping track of overdose data, both fatal and non-fatal,” says Schenectady Police Lt. Ryan Macherone.

In the last week alone, Lt. Macherone says there have been four deadly overdoses representing just a small spike in the overall rising trend.

“These deaths we’ve had this week did definitely raise some red flags for us. Even though we’re still waiting on toxicology to come back, we didn’t want to wait and decided to put out the warning to the public now,” he says.

“We are now seeing fentanyl infiltrate other drugs like cocaine and things like that, which is especially scary. A person who is using opiates may already have naloxone or Narcan and is at least safer when they use, but a person who is not expecting that drug may not be prepared for what can happen,” he goes on to explain to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

Macherone says the Schenectady Cares Program at the Schenectady Police Department is a 24/7 walk-in service that connects those struggling with a substance abuse disorder or those in their support network with other local agencies to receive aid. Since September 2021, he says police have made more than 200 referrals, including to New Choices Recovery Center.

“That’s about connecting them with medication assisted treatment like Suboxone. We know that if we can’t get Suboxone into folks hands, that they’re going to continue to use opiates,” explains Chad Putnam, the program director for the New Choices Center of Treatment Innovation.

“We make a plan to get them in for an assessment. We do a safety check first to make sure they have access to Narcan so if they do continue to use, they’re not using alone and at least someone is near them or around them. If they need medication assisted treatment immediately, then we have other resources that we can direct them to,” he details of the intake process.

Putnam says while they do as much as they can, a major setback is not enough methadone clinics in the region.

“Say you’re looking to go to the clinic at Conifer Park, well you can’t get in right away. If you were calling me today and I tell you you can come back in three to four weeks, that’s not going to help you, right? That’s going to raise the risk of overdose,” Putnam says.

New Choices hopes to open a new methadone facility by August to fill a bit of the gap. Another factor that doesn’t get enough attention he says is the correlation between substance abuse and homelessness.

“When somebody presents to us at homeless or looking to get into an inpatient program, where do they go, right? When I found recovery, I came out of a drug infested apartment. I can’t go back to that apartment, right, while I’m in recovery,” he explains.

Thankfully, there has been a major spotlight on mental health and better access to care, especially during the pandemic.

“We know very often folks are self-medicating. There is a high prevalence of individuals who have a substance abuse disorder who also have some sort of mental health diagnosis as well. Most commonly being anxiety, depression, ADHD, or bipolar,” Putnam explains.

He says what he learned most during his own recovery is that to help someone, they need to have their own motivation to change and open-minded support can help them get there.

“We ask them, what are you prepared to do today? What is your motivation? Do you want to go to detox? Do you want to go to inpatient or outpatient therapy or peer support?” he explains. “We find that’s how we have the most success, by connecting with people where they’re at and making a plan based on what they’re prepared to do.”

“This can really happen to anybody. I didn’t wake up one day saying I wanted to be a drug addict and an alcoholic, right? That was not my thing, but that’s what my story was, and I was able to overcome it with treatment, recovery, and support,” Putnam goes on to say.

“We need to be realistic about it, right? It’s not so easy as to just say, stop using, and expect that to work. From a law enforcement perspective, to just say arrest somebody for it, we know that an arrest isn’t going to stop an overdose. So we really want to work with those agencies all throughout our area to try and help individuals and meet them where they are,” Lt. Macherone says.

To connect with the Schenectady Cares Program at Schenectady PD, call 518-630-0911 or walk in for a referral. A few of the department’s suggested resources are as follows:

  • Catholic Charities/Project Safe Point – 24/7 Health Hub toll free: 1-866-930-4999
    • Harm reduction services, overdose prevention (including naloxone) treatment readiness and referral, syringe exchange, HIV and Hepatitis C Screening. Fentanyl test strips are also available by calling the number above.
  • New Choices: 518-346-4436 or 518-382-7838
    • Provides residential services, outpatient services, MAT, COTI Project, Tele-Medicine, Friends of Recovery, and Family Support 
  • Conifer Park: 1-800-928-6433 (inpatient), 518-372-7031 (outpatient)
    • Provides MAT and Family Support services
  • SPARC Inpatient Rehab: 518-452-6700
  • SPARC Rotterdam clinic: 518-357-2909
    • Provides outpatient and MAT services
  • Hometown Health: 518-370-1441, ext. 4182 or ext. 4175
    • Offering health services, Certified Recovery Peer Advocated (CRPA’s), Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), Outpatient Substance Use Disorder services, and nursing staff and SUD OP staff trained in SBIRT, helping with early intervention and treatment for those with a substance use disorder
    • Open: Mon-Thu 7:00am-7:00pm, Fri 7:00am-5:00pm and Sat 9:00am-1:00pm
  • Ellis Emergency Department:
    • Provides MAT and referrals to treatment and CRPA (Certified Recovery Peer Advocate) support
    • Mon-Fri 8:00am-4:00pm with referrals to either Conifer Park or Catholic Charities outside of those hours
  • The RSS/Ellis Living Room: 518-831-1523
    • Provides an alternate to visiting Emergency Room for mental health crises
  • Project COAST (Coordinated Opioid and Stimulant Treatment): 1-866-518-4991
    • This is 24/7 same day access to MAT for individuals that use opioids
  • You can get trained in naloxone via the Schenectady County website. Call the Office of Community Services at 518-386-2218 for more information.
  • Northern Rivers Mental Health Services: 518-952-9032
    • Mental health counseling services and wellness services