The Jefferson County Public Health Department released some encouraging news about the drug epidemic plaguing our region.
In 2014, there were 11 deaths in the county attributed to opiate overdoses. This number rose to 12 in 2015 and then spiked to 16 the following year. These overdose deaths lowered to 13 in 2017 and nine last year.
But so far in 2019, there have been only two such deaths in Jefferson County.
The loss of any person to drug use is tragic, so we’re not cheering this news. We acknowledge that these individuals had loved ones who will miss them very much. Until drug addiction is eliminated, the work continues.
This statistic, however, shows that more people are being saved from fatal encounters. This is possible through the heroic efforts of first-responders, medical professionals, criminal justice officials, health care analysts and drug treatment services along with the family members and friends of those who abuse opiates. The collective approach to moving those trapped by addiction toward recovery is making a real difference.
The Alliance for Better Communities is dedicated to enhancing public health and safety in Jefferson County. Anita K. Seefried-Brown, the organization’s project director, said that while members may be pleased with the recent news, they remain vigilant.
“We never exhale,” she said in a story published Aug. 25 by the Watertown Daily Times. “One bad batch of fentanyl could wipe us out.”
She’s correct. This is no time for people concerned about this problem to rest on their laurels.
“The north country is part of the national opioid/opiate crisis resulting from the overuse, abuse and prescribing of the drugs,” the Times story reported. “In latest numbers, revised in January, the National Institute of Drug Abuse reported more than 130 people in the United States die each day after overdosing on opioids. Data released this summer from a federal database maintained by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency says that from 2006 to 2012 more than 76 billion opioid pain pills were sold in the United States; that would equal about 231 pills per person in the U.S., which has a population of 329 million.”
The lower number of overdose deaths is due in part to the increased use of naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan. The medication is used to counter the effects of overdoses by blocking receptors in the body.
Narcan has become widely used by first-responders. People who are at risk of overdose as well as their family members and friends also may obtain it. New York has a standing order allowing pharmacies to dispense the medication without a prescription.
Another essential factor in the reduced incidents of opiate overdose deaths is the ongoing work of drug treatment providers. Stephen A. Jennings, a public health planner for Jefferson County, credited the Anchor Recovery Center of Northern New York operated by Pivot Prevention Services.
The facility was opened two years ago in the Marcy Building in Watertown. The Anchor Recovery Center focuses on what kind of treatment programs are best for its individual clients.
The intersection of forces working to reduce drug addiction in Jefferson County has helped decrease the number of opiate overdose deaths. This provides a blueprint for how to continue this work going forward.