Local opioid deaths steady

File photoIn this July 7, 2019 file photo, Columbia-Greene Addiction and Recovery Coordinator Danielle Hotaling presents the Columbia-Greene Addiction Coalition’s new website to the Greene County Legislature. Although the number of deaths from opioid overdoses declined overall in New York State, the local number of opioid deaths was steady.

ALBANY — After years of prevention, treatment and recovery initiatives, the rate of opioid overdose deaths in New York has finally decreased.

For the first time in a decade, the state saw a nearly 16 percent drop in opioid overdose deaths between 2017 and 2018, from 2,170 deaths to 1,824, according to data from the state Department of Health.

“New York’s first reduction in opioid overdose deaths in over 10 years is an important milestone and demonstrates our work to combat this deadly scourge is working,” Cuomo said in a statement Monday.

While the state as a whole saw a decrease in overdose deaths, though, Columbia and Greene counties haven’t experienced the same reduction, according to the health department’s data. Columbia County saw six overdose deaths in 2018, and six so far this year, while Greene County had 12 deaths in 2018 and 11 this year.

“Could I say Columbia and Greene County are improving? I think the numbers are stable,” said Carl Quinn, assistant program director at Twin County Recovery Services. “We’re not seeing dramatic increases like we’ve seen over the last three or four years.”

Columbia Memorial Health spokesman William Van Slyke said that despite the positive statewide data, “opioids remain a very big problem for many rural communities.”

“The death rate from opioid overdoses in Greene County in particular remains much higher than the state average,” he said in a statement. “So there is still a great deal of work to be done.”

The state has taken multiple initiatives to increase prevention, treatment and recovery capacity and services, according to a press release from Cuomo’s office. They have added hundreds of treatment beds and thousands of opioid treatment program slots, distributed grants to local organizations tackling the opioid crisis and integrated medicated assisted treatment in hospitals and other primary care facilities.

Twin County Recovery Services was one such organization that benefited from grants, which funded boots-on-the ground work including positions such as peer advocates, a mobile clinician and transportation coordinator, as well as a mobile clinic.

“Those are making a huge impact, we’re at least coming in contact with a number of people within both counties that may have not looked at our services previously,” Quinn said.

Van Slyke said that Columbia Memorial Health has also invested in programs and physicians specialized in addition to combat the crisis.

Yet there is more to be done to streamline recovery services to Columbia and Greene county residents. Neither county has a rehabilitation center, and Columbia County doesn’t have a detox center. For inpatient treatment, those suffering from addiction must travel out of the county — a cumbersome barrier to manage, especially for those lower on the socioeconomic scale.

“I think if a detox center were to happen here then we would start working toward being able to improve some of numbers,” Quinn said.

Massarah Mikati covers the New York State Legislature and immigration for Johnson Newspaper Corp. Email her at mmikati@columbiagreenemedia.com, or find her on Twitter @massarahmikati.

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