“We all understand that we are up against a daunting challenge and working together is the only way that we will reduce the tragic loss of life in our community,” Picente said. “The reality is that we have, and will continue, to fight this battle in the face of many obstacles including the impacts of a pandemic, limited resources and an ever-changing drug environment. And despite the progress we’ve made, there is more work to do.”
Oneida County experienced a 27% increase in overdose fatalities from 2020 to 2021, and nationwide, a 29% increase was seen during that same time frame. Those increases, combined with a changing drug environment that saw 46% of the 89 county drug-related deaths in 2021 involve fentanyl mixed with a stimulant such as cocaine or methamphetamines, and that fact that 90% of county drug-related deaths in 2021 involved fentanyl, prompted the Task Force’s call.
“We are confident we can continue to advance our efforts to improve the lives of people struggling with substance use disorder and the people who care about them,” Maciol said. “Now is the time to strengthen our collaboration and explore informative questions.”
The Task Force’s “Call to Action” will tackle issues in four areas of focus:
- Treatment Enhancement
- According to the U.S Department of Health & Human Services, only 10% of Americans with substance use disorders receive treatment. The stigma and misperceptions about people with substance use disorder persist, despite advances to help people understand that it is a medical condition.
- County Actions
- Using ODMAP data to identify hotspots, will reduce barriers to treatment by implementing an evidence-based, low-threshold, same-day access to treatment medication program to people through Street Engagement Teams.
- Roll out a mass public education campaign to address stigma associated with addictions to reduce public and provider stigma that can prevent people from seeking help.
- Explore a paramedic field-initiated low-threshold buprenorphine program to start eligible overdose survivors on medication for addiction treatment post overdose and link to next-day peer, treatment and other support services.
- Overdose Prevention/Harm Reduction
- The U.S. is experiencing the most significant substance use and overdose epidemic it has ever faced, exacerbated by a pandemic, and driven primarily by fentanyl and other analogues.
- In 2021, 25% of Oneida County ODMAP overdoses occurred in public spaces and Narcan was not administered in 79% of the fatalities.
- County Actions
- Increase access to naloxone and fentanyl test strips by:
- Installing Narcan emergency cabinets in all county offices and encouraging other local municipalities and organizations to do the same.
- Distributing thousands more fentanyl test strips to partners for people at risk for overdose
- Make harm-reduction training opportunities available to Opioid Task Force partners.
- Implement a public awareness campaign to increase awareness of the risks associated with fentanyl in all drugs including cocaine, methamphetamines and counterfeit pills.
- Form an Overdose Fatality Review Team to identify system gaps and innovative community-specific overdose prevention and intervention strategies.
- Increase the number of first responders trained to administer Narcan and expand participation in the county’s Leave Behind Naloxone Program.
- The process of recovery is highly personal and occurs via many pathways, therefore support from someone with lived experience can be invaluable in helping people navigate daunting systems of care, remove barriers and stay engaged in treatment and recovery.
- County Actions
- Continue to have people with lived experience inform and be engaged in all areas of OTF strategies.
- Expand initiatives to train and recruit more peer professionals to leverage their unique abilities and experiences to help others get linked to treatment and other support services.
- Give people in recovery a voice and opportunities to tell their powerful and inspirational stories through videos, podcasts and testimonials.
- According to the U.S Food & Drug Administration, in 2017, retail pharmacies dispensed more than 191 million opioid prescriptions to almost 60 million patients, either as first-time prescriptions or refills. As many as 90% of these patients reported not finishing what was prescribed to them, potentially leaving millions of unused prescription opioids in medicine cabinets, creating access for first-time users.
- In 2020, the county’s ODMAP captured 10 overdoses involving those aged 18 and younger and that number increased by 150% in 2021 to 26 overdoses (17 intentional; 9 unintentional). The majority of the intentional overdoses involved prescription drugs.
- County Actions
- Collaborate with Task Force partners to distribute approximately 12,000 drug home disposal bags so that unused opioid or other prescription pills will not be readily available and easily accessible in homes.
- Provide partners with trauma-informed care training opportunities to better support the needs of people with Adverse Childhood Experiences and toxic stress.
“With the support of our partner agencies and organizations that make up the Task Force, we believe we can accomplish what we have outlined in our Call to Action and achieve the goal we have set forth,” McNamara said. “Many communities lack real-time overdose and drug trend data to help understand and address emerging drug issues in their community, but we have this valuable resource available to us and will continue to use it to develop data-informed strategies and evaluate our progress.”