HUDSON — Columbia County has had an uptick recently in the number of drug-related overdoses.
As of Thursday morning, Columbia County had four overdoses in the past two days and Greene County had one overdose.
None of the overdoses were fatal.
Greener Pathways Program Director Carl Quinn said in addition to the overdoses in the Twin Counties, nearby Rensselaer County had between four and six overdoses over the same time span.
“The overdoses in Columbia and Rensselaer County were all nonfatal,” Quinn said. “We use a utility called OD Map that lets us see overdoses around the state. We can see on that map there was a fatality in Saratoga County last night and there was a nonfatal overdose in Schoharie and one in Montgomery. It seems to be affecting the whole Capital Region area.”
He could not give the exact locations of where the overdoses occurred in Columbia County, but said one was in the eastern part of the county, one was in the Hudson area and one was in the northern part of the county, Quinn said.
Widespread overdoses like these can be an indicator that a drug supply has been contaminated with a high quantity of fentanyl, Quinn said.
“Normally, it’s expected that there is some level of fentanyl in things people are using,” Quinn said. “But because we don’t have toxicology on any of these individuals, it’s hard to tell if it was fentanyl that caused the overdose, but that is usually what the suspect is when it’s a widespread event like this.”
In response to the spike in overdoses, the Greener Pathways Mobile Outreach RV made trips to Philmont and Hudson on Wednesday to reach out to community members.
“Typically we set up in an area that we feel is productive for our outreach,” Quinn said. “We hand out Narcan, we hand out fentanyl test strips, we’re available if people who are actively using want to talk to us about getting help, or just to support people in the community who might know people who are having issues with substance use.”
Narcan is a overdose reversal drug, Quinn explained. When an individual uses opioids, such as fentanyl or heroin, the opioid attaches to the receptors in the person’s brain. This can cause the person to stop breathing and stops their heart rate, causing an overdose, Quinn said.
“When you give someone Narcan it goes to those receptors and pulls the opioid off of those receptors and binds to it so people will start breathing again, the heart will start beating again,” he said. “If people are given Narcan, in time it actually has the effect of completely reversing an overdose and preventing somebody from dying. Unfortunately there are times where people have actually progressed too far and Narcan does not work to revive them.”
Fentanyl test strips can be used to test drugs to see if there is fentanyl in them. Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than heroin, Quinn noted. Having a very small amount of it in a drug supply can cause a person to overdose.
“We encourage people to test their drug supply and find out if it has fentanyl in it,” Quinn said. “So that one, they may choose not to use the drug if they know it has fentanyl in it. Or two, if they do decide to continue to use the drug anyway, they are more likely to be careful about it because they know there’s fentanyl in it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted drug use, Quinn said, as the pandemic has caused more isolation and interrupted the way many people have been able to handle their recovery. COVID has also made it more difficult to attend Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
“Moving that to a virtual platform can really be devastating to some people,” Quinn said. “We’ve seen dramatic increases in the numbers of overdoses in both Columbia and Greene County over the past 12 months.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website reports the number of drug-related overdoses was already on the rise in 2019 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D., in a December statement. “As we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it’s important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences.”
The latest data suggest COVID-19 has accelerated the number of overdoses and overdose deaths. The CDC reports that in the United States there were more than 81,000 drug overdose deaths in the 12 months ending in May 2020, which was the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, according to the CDC.
“I think that the county is much like the state and much like the country that we’re seeing an increase in overdoses because of the pandemic,” said Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb. “This spike kind of caught us by surprise because it’s pretty widespread and there’s quite a few overdoses, and there seems to be some sense that these overdoses might all be related to one batch.”
Anyone in Columbia or Greene County who would like a Narcan kit or fentanyl test strips can text NARCANKIT to 21000 and a Greener Pathways Peer Advocate will assist them.