Columbia County health officials issued an overdose spike alert on Monday in response to an increase in non-fatal overdoses over the weekend.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented disruption to the normal operating procedures of health and human services agencies,” the county health department said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the necessity for overdose prevention and response has not abated during the pandemic.”
A mobile van distributing Narcan kits were parked at Kinderhook Town Hall and Chatham Firehouse on Monday. Peer advocates were also on hand to provide harm reduction education, said Greener Pathways Program Director Carl Quinn.
Narcan kits contain the drug naloxone, which can be injected to prevent overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“Friday to [Monday] we have seen a dramatic uptick in overdoses,” Quinn said. “As part of our response plan, we take our vehicle out into the community when that happens.”
Quinn said the overdoses were centered primarily in the northern part of the county.
“What we suspect is that there is heroin that is laced with fentanyl, maybe coming from one or two dealers in this part of the county,” he said.
“No one died this weekend, but some are requiring multiple doses of Narcan to reverse it, which does tell you about the potency of the fentanyl.”
Quinn said Greener Pathways is in a “race against the clock” to combat overdoses, especially as people in active addiction tend to isolate themselves further during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Even in this time of social distancing, especially people in early recovery, the tendency is to isolate,” he said. “We encourage them not to do that.”
Quinn said people in active use or early recovery are among the most vulnerable.
“They are not the healthiest individuals, so they are very worried about getting sick,” he said.
Health services remain available despite the COVID-19 shutdown, officials said in the statement accompanying the spike alert.
Anyone seeking help for themselves or a family member is encouraged is available by calling Greener Pathways at 518-822-7437 or Columbia County Pathways To Recovery at 877-467-3365, health officials said.
The increase in overdoses may be related to the closings of support groups, officials said.
Community meetings have been suspended at Columbia County Pathways To Recovery, but help is available online and over the phone, said Desiree Grazinno, the Pathways to Recovery helpline coordinator.
“Our helpline is fully operational, even if they just need to talk,” she said. “This is a trying time, people who cant go to physical meetings are struggling.”
Greener Pathways is working with regional partners to assist anyone struggling with addition, especially those who need food and stable housing.
“If there are barriers they are facing our job is help them get around them,” Quinn said.
The Pathways to Recovery hotline has not seen an overall increase in calls at this time, Grazinno said.
“Even with the virus, we are still seeing the same quota,10-15 calls a month on average, on the helpline,” she said.
Grazinno said that this may be a difficult time to seek treatment, as many treatment facilities are not taking in new patients right now.
“They have shut their doors, and if there is an emergency, they are doing a rigorous screening process,” she said.