Wake-up calls come in a variety of guises. Last weekend’s spike in drug overdoses in Columbia County garnered a swift response from addiction recovery advocates and the police. More important, it put officials on notice. The war against the opioid epidemic is far from over.
Seven overdoses, including one death, were reported as part of the spike that lasted from Friday to Saturday. It was a weekend of tragedy. But if anything good can be said to come from it, it’s that the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department and other police agencies got a chance to use a digital tool known as ODMap to track and map overdoses. Overdoses are logged into the map designed by the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the online database notifies police agencies when there is a spike in overdoses.
With the data in hand, police agencies and their partners are deployed to areas where overdoses are likely to have occurred or will occur. This time, the focus was in and around the village of Chatham.
Meanwhile, Greener Pathways, which offers addiction services in Columbia and Greene counties, and the Columbia County Department of Health deployed to Chatham to provide services to addicts. Overdose reversal kits and training and a peer advocate were on hand at the Chatham firehouse for anyone who wanted to talk about their addictions. Alerts were put out on websites and social media by those agencies to make people aware of the spike in overdoses and what help is out there.
“Nonprofit and the police departments and putting these announcements out really help to curb overdoses and does create awareness,” said Lori Antonson, acting president and vice president of Columbia County Pathways. “We basically encourage people in these upticks to seek help for their addiction in terms of treatment and/or through peer advocates, and that is what our helpline is for.”
Even with the alerts and increased awareness, it can be difficult to predict when the next spike will occur or what will cause it. But there are the usual suspects. A spike is often traced back to opiates laced with fentantyl or carfentanil, which most or all of the time are not detectable by the user.
Realistic, skillfully handled approaches such as those taken by addiction treatment services and police agencies are admirable and they are helping to destabilize the local opioid crisis. Yet the latest spike was dramatic enough to make police and counselors sit up and take notice. Much work must be done before a cure for this dangerous and deadly epidemic is found.