Fentanyl linked to overdose spike

Overdoses in the Twin Counties have increased dramatically during the pandemic. In Columbia County there have been 20 overdoses since March 16 and one fatality. In Greene County there have been 25 overdoses and three fatalities.

TROY — At least 30 overdoses and two fatalities occurred in less than 24 hours Wednesday night into Thursday in the Capital Region due to cocaine laced with fentanyl, Rensselaer County officials said Thursday.

A video press briefing by Rensselaer County officials was made available by Greener Pathways, which serves the Twin Counties, on its Facebook page.

Twin County health officials, alarmed by the news, are trying to stem the tide.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began March 16, Rensselaer County has had 23 overdoses, Rensselaer Public Health Director Mary Fran Wachunas said.

The county has had a total of 31 overdoses this year and two fatalities. The county’s year-end total of overdoses for 2019 was 34, Wachunas said. At this time last year, the county had 12 overdoses.

Columbia County has had 20 overdoses since March 16 and one fatality, Greener Pathways Program Director Carl Quinn said. In 2019, the statistics for the same time period were one overdose and two fatalities.

Greene County has had 25 overdoses and three fatalities since March 16. This time last year, Greene County had 10 overdoses and two fatalities.

“We are asking you, begging you, to reach out to us,” Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin said. “We can get you fentanyl test strips, we can get you Narcan. We’ll deliver it to you no questions asked. We don’t want to see anybody die. What we saw last night we have never seen around here.”

Columbia County is also distributing Narcan and fentanyl test strips, according to the Columbia County Department of Health. Narcan is an opioid antagonist used to reverse an opioid overdose.

Twin County residents in need of fentanyl test strips can request them from Greener Pathways by calling 518-291-4500 or 518-822-7437. Greener Pathways is the Mobile Outreach Program for Twin County Recovery Services.

The Columbia County Department of Health encourages those who may be actively using to use safely, let a loved one know where you are and have access to Narcan. Those who have loved ones struggling during this time of isolation and quarantine are encouraged to regularly check in.

Greener Pathways launched a texting service in April with the help of Rensselaer County to make Narcan more accessible.

Twin County residents in need of Narcan can text NARCANKIT to 21000 to receive a kit.

The texting option is not an emergency service and should not be used in place of 911 if an overdose occurs, Quinn said.

“It’s just to get Narcan in the community,” he said. “If someone is in active use and wants to have it with them, or a family member or loved one of someone actively using wants it.”

The recent increase in overdoses is likely linked to the pandemic, Quinn said.

For example, those in recovery have lost traditional, face-to-face support group meetings, Quinn said.

“People are isolating and not able to get to their sober support meetings,” Quinn said.

Technological limits cut clients off from the services they need, he added.

“A lot them don’t have cellphones, or they only have Wi-Fi but no minutes to be able to participate in meetings,” Quinn said.

Greener Pathways offers virtual support group meetings using Zoom daily at 2 p.m. with a clinician.

The Columbia Department of Health issued a statement regarding the correlation after an overdose spike in April.

“It is likely that this dramatic uptick is connected to the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation/postponement of events, holidays and closing of schools and many workplaces,” according to the Department of Health. “This incredible reduction in physical contact that is saving the public’s health is also putting those in active addiction and those in recovery at risk.”

Troy Mayor Patrick Madden echoed McLaughlin’s concern regarding the Capital Region’s alarming figures.

“The deaths we experienced here in Troy last night were devastating,” he said Thursday.

Wachunas urged those actively using to consider the seriousness of the situation.

“When people are recreationally using cocaine, you need to step back and think about it,” she said. “There’s going to be fentanyl in there. You really need to think twice about that.”

McLaughlin agreed.

“You’re really rolling the dice with your life,” he said. “You’re playing Russian roulette with your life when you take this stuff. It can and will kill you.”

For help, contact Greener Pathways, 518-291-4500 or 518-822-7437; Columbia County Pathways To Recovery, 877-467-3365; Project Safe Point 1-866-930-4999; or Twin County Recovery Services, 518-828-9300 or 518-943-2036.

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