OGDENSBURG — Two Ogdensburg Free Academy students told classmates and school administrators this week that St. Lawrence County’s growing opioid crisis is killing young north country residents at an alarming pace.
The OFA Key Club’s outgoing President Maria Pelusi and incoming President Noelle Dutch gave a presentation on illegal drug use to the school body on Tuesday.
The event was coordinated in conjunction with the St. Lawrence County Drug Task Force and school administrators.
The assembly included the showing of the video “Chasing the Dragon.” The movie chronicles the struggles of several teenagers and their families battling opioid and heroin addiction.
But it was the narrative provided by the Ogdensburg students that painted the most sobering portrait of what the opioid crisis is doing to their friends, neighbors and loved ones on a local level.
“We asked the school to hold this special assembly because Ogdensburg and St. Lawrence County is facing a serious health crisis,” Miss Pelusi said.
In 2017, 180 drug overdose cases were reported across St. Lawrence County, with 37 of those emergency calls coming from locations within Ogdensburg to the county’s central dispatch office in Canton, according to a report presented by Miss Pelusi and Miss Dutch.
And the number of overdose cases is on the rise in recent years, they said.
“Sadly, those statistics are not unusual,” Miss Dutch said. “Over the past three years, St. Lawrence County emergency service officials have received over 107 reports of individuals suffering a drug overdose just in the City of Ogdensburg alone.”
During that same three year period — on a county-wide basis — emergency first responders have been dispatched to assist 537 individuals reportedly suffering the effects of a drug overdose.
The death toll is also climbing, the students said.
They pointed out that in 2016, 18 people in St. Lawrence County died from drug overdoses, according to information they received from the county health department. Of those deaths, they said 17 were opioid or heroin overdoses.
“Between 2014 and 2016, the number of overdose cases at hospital emergency rooms in St. Lawrence County rose from 161 cases in 2014 to 256 in 2016,” Miss Pelusi said. “That’s a 59 percent increase, a very sharp rise in the number of overdoses reported, with Ogdensburg and Massena the most common patient zip code.”
The Key Club representatives said they decided to take their message directly to their own student body in Ogdensburg, because the majority of those who are dying are young.
“In St. Lawrence County, the health department is finding that almost 47 percent of the people who are dying from drug overdoses are under age 30,” Ms. Pelusi said.
“Almost half of the deaths are due to using opioids or heroin. Twenty-five percent of the people who die are in their 30s.”
The movie “Chasing the Dragon” is being promoted by federal and local drug enforcement officials as a way to give young people a more realistic point of view regarding the opioid crisis now sweeping across the country, including in Northern New York.
Ogdensburg Free Academy Principal Cynthia Tuttle said the recent assembly and discussion on the effects of drugs in the community was aided by Detective Art Shattuck from the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department and Detective David LeBeau from the Ogdensburg Police Department.
She said also supporting the awareness effort was the group named Safer Ogdensburg For All.
Mrs. Tuttle said SOFA is a multi-agency and community-based coalition organized by Patti Hogle & Michele Catlin, and several volunteers, in conjunction with Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center and Seaway Valley Prevention Council.
Superintendent Timothy M. Vernsey said it is important for the district and the community to do all it can to help curtail the growing opioid crisis.
“At a time when the opioid epidemic is wreaking havoc on families and people of all ages it is our responsibility to provide our students with information that will help them make good decisions and understand the significance of this epidemic, as well as the dangers associated with opioid addiction,” Mr. Vernsey said.