Last time, I wrote of how in mid-October Columbia County — specifically in and around the Village of Chatham — was hit with a rapidly developing spike in heroin overdoses over a period of roughly 24 hours, and the ensuing response under the Columbia County Opioid Epidemic Response Plan.
This time around, I spoke with law enforcement and health department officials about the events of that terrible weekend and the opioid epidemic overall. Following are their responses.
“Having everyone mobilized and working together was absolutely beneficial,” said Sheriff David Bartlett.
“Are we going to stop people from getting heroin and overdosing?,” Bartlett asked. “No, we’re not. But the Health Department, the Sheriff’s Office, Twin County Recovery Services, and community groups all mobilized together. It wasn’t just one unit doing this or doing that. That response is important.”
“On the law enforcement end,” Bartlett continued, “we found out where the stuff was coming from, then went out and made buys and conducted raids on houses where we thought the drugs that were causing the overdoses were coming from. On the flip side, I immediately called the Health Department.”
Jack Mabb, director of the Columbia County Health Department, said that upon receiving the call from the sheriff, his department swung into action. “Kristy Frederick, our opioid nurse and community liaison, is the story of that horrendous weekend. She was critical in setting up the communication that we needed to get word out to the public quickly that there may be a bad batch.”
“This is the first time we’ve run the response through and I think it went incredibly well,” Mabb said.
As a measure of how well the communication factor worked, following the overdose death early in the weekend, Health Department Training Educator Victoria McGahan organized a Narcan training session in Chatham on Sunday.
With only time to organize the session on social media, nonetheless, 15 people showed up.
“It was a pretty coordinated response with multiple people involved,” Mabb said. “You have to be pleased with the result we got in terms of alerting the Chatham community that maybe they could make a difference next time.”
“people need to know Narcan is a temporary fix,” he added. “People need to get to the hospital. The chemical in Narcan boots the opioid off the receptors in the brain that the opioid connects to, but it comes back on because the opioid stays in the system and the Narcan doesn’t.”
Anyone is eligible to receive Narcan training, he said.
Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka reminds us that “no family is immune” from opioids intruding on their lives.
“Once this was for poorer people, but now there’s no limit geographically or socioeconomic status. This problem is everywhere,” Czajka said.
Furthermore, he added, “At one time it cost $500 a day to maintain a habit. Now it is so incredibly cheap. This is not a problem we can incarcerate our way out of.”
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: If you know someone in danger of succumbing to addiction, suffering from addiction, or if you find yourself in that situation, do not hesitate to reach out to any one of these. Help is a phone call away.
Reach Matt Murell at email@example.com.