Jefferson County combats addiction with Overdose Awareness Day

Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 4:26 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - In the last two years, Jefferson County officials have noticed a disturbing upward trend in the number of overdose deaths.

In their effort to combat addiction, Overdose Awareness Day was observed in Watertown Wednesday. People gathered outside city hall.

“We have lost 50 people in the last year and a half,” said Jefferson County District Attorney Kristyna Mills. “That is a sobering number.”

Those 50 people were remembered during the gathering. Grant Robinson was almost one of them.

“The last thing I remember was using. That was it. I woke up to paramedics,” he said.

He was struggling with addiction, but was saved by Narcan. Now, his life’s mission is to get other people trained to administer it.

“To learn how to use this medication, you can change the course of somebody’s life and their family’s,” he said.

Desiree Smith is now six years sober. But her friend, Tia, recently lost her battle with addiction.

“Tia was my friend before drugs. So, it hits different. We did all that stuff together, so to see me doing good and her not here now is crazy,” she said.

County officials say some opioids are now seen laced with the deadly substance fentanyl. That, along with the pandemic and bail reform laws, has led to more overdoses, they say.

“We used to be able to hold people in jail, help them detox, get in recovery, take them out into certain programming. There are a lot of crimes nowadays that we don’t have that option. So, individuals that need to recover are just put back out on the street,” said Mills.

Mills says her office can’t control bail reform, but it can get more resources for the community, like fentanyl test strips and Narcan training. That way, more people can be celebrated as survivors rather than mourned as victims.

“I pray that everyone gets it together because this life is way better,” said Smith.

Even little things like reducing the stigma surrounding addiction can help.

“It is a shameful disease. People still use the terms. I ask that anybody out there to stop calling people junkies, dirty, and addicts. That’s not what they are. They’re somebody’s children, brothers, and parents. They’re people and they’re loved,” said Robinson.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, these are just a few organizations that can help:

  • PIVOT: 315-788-4660
  • CREDO Community Center: 315-788-1530
  • Jefferson County Crisis Response: 315-782-2327
  • SMC Outpatient addiction services: 315-782-2327
  • NYS OASAS 27/7 Hopeline: 1-877-8-hopeny
  • Alliance for Better Communities: 315-788-4660

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