Pandemic, money & bail reform blamed for Jefferson County’s overdose problem

WWNY Pandemic, money & bail reform blamed for Jefferson County’s overdose problem

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Jefferson County is on track to see its worst year ever for drug overdoses.

In May and June, the county had 53 reported overdoses though mapping software. Two of those drug users died in May, while 4 other deaths from May and June are pending confirmation.

Officials say one of the reasons for the rise in overdoses is due to people having more money in their pockets.

Anita Seefried-Brown from the Alliance for Better Communities says what's happening is dealers have taken their $1,200 federal stimulus checks, gone to Syracuse, and brought drugs back to Jefferson County to sell to their customers, who also have more money to spend on drugs right now.

Brown says that the spike in overdoses is devastating.

“It has been never been this horrendous. I have had numerous conversations of people who are still using and people who are in very, very early very, very tenuous recovery and there is this pervasive sense of helplessness and hopelessness,” she said.

Aside from having more money, another piece to the increase in overdoses is bail reform.

Jefferson County District Attorney Kristyna Mills says for some, no jail means no treatment.

"I have had many come up to me and thank me for putting them in jail for giving them the time to get clean for connecting for them with treatment providers and for giving them a chance and unfortunately we don't have that opportunity anymore," said Mills.

She said that opportunity is lost due to bail reform in New York, which means low level offenders can't be held behind bars as their case goes through court. Instead they are given an appearance ticket.

"This is something that we feared when the new bail laws went in to effect. We did fear that we were going to see an increase in overdoses because the criminal justice system was always a good place to get people connected with treatment," said Mills.

Health officials say bail reform and COVID-19 have contributed to Jefferson County's 136 suspected overdoses this year.

There have been 13 confirmed deaths with 4 more pending. Health officials say most of the overdoses deaths are fentanyl-related and it's taken more than one dose of Narcan to bring people back.

"We are on track to have our worst year, I think, ever if we keep going on this pace," said Jefferson County Public Health Planner Stephen Jennings.

Health officials say even drugs that aren't usually associated with overdoses, like marijuana, can be deadly.

“We really want to warn people that any drug they use could be laced with something lethal and it’s just a very very dangerous time. You don’t know what you’re getting,” said Jennings.

The Jefferson County Public Health Service, Jefferson County Department of Community Services, and the Alliance for Better Communities want to remind people that a number of community resources have been established and expanded to help people who have substance use disorders, and for people to access these resources to receive assistance and treatment:

- Anchor Recovery Center of NNY: (315) 836-3460

- Credo Community Center for Treatment of Addictions: (315) 788-1530

- ACR Health: (315) 785-8222

- Samaritan Addiction Services: (315) 779-5060

- Samaritan Medical Center - Social Worker on Call: (315) 785-4516

- Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

- Northern Regional Center for Independent Living: (315) 785-8703 business hours; and (315) 785-8708 nights and weekends.

- Mobile Crisis Jefferson County: (315) 782-2327 of (315) 777-9681

- Hope Line: 1-877-8-HOPENY or Text 46736

- To receive Naloxone training and free kits, contact Credo, ACR Health, or the Anchor Recovery Center of NNY

The public is also reminded of New York State’s 911 Good Samaritan Law, which allows people to call 911 without fear of arrest due to drug possession if they are having a drug or alcohol overdose that requires emergency medical care or if they witness someone overdosing.

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