ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) – This year’s International Overdose Awareness Day comes amid a pandemic-related spike.   

Over the pandemic, addiction care went virtual and left those already vulnerable at a breaking point.

“This disease is hallmarked by isolation, so what’s treatment? Well, the exact opposite of isolation, which is connection,” said Dr. Jason Kirby of St. Peter’s Addiction Recovery Center. He says experts knew isolation would cause a spike in overdose deaths.

“We weren’t expecting that it was going to be as dramatic as what it was,” he said. 

Overdoses rose more than 30% in 2020 according to the CDC and fentanyl was involved in most of them.

“The majority of the heroin that’s on the streets right now is fentanyl. It’s about 10 times more potent than heroin and therefore 10 times more deadly. It’s Russian roulette every single time that folks go on the street,” he said.

Of course the goal is to get people into treatment but they need to be ready for it.

“Treatment is a mindset. Folks have to be willing to accept treatment, they have to be willing to change their behaviors.”

Until they are, Dr. Kirby says we need to improve access to lifesaving measures like the nasal spray, Narcan, which can reverse the effects of opioids and buy precious time. And another somewhat controversial strategy; fentanyl test strips.

“People who are going to use drugs anyways will be able to test their drugs and if there’s a presence of fentanyl, they have options at least they know what they’re doing.”

Dr. Kirby says addiction affects not only the person who suffers from it – but everyone around them and it can be a heavy burden.

“There’s a lot of lying cheating manipulating stealing. Family members need to keep themselves healthy and boundaries are completely an acceptable thing.” 

Along the journey to recovery, 40% will relapse within the first year so it’s important loved ones arm themselves with those lifesaving tools. 

There are plenty of community resources that offer free Narcan training, including Project Safe Point in Albany. It’s also available in pharmacies without a prescription. You can always ask your primary care provider for more information.