NewsChannel 9 WSYR (ABC)
UTICA, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — The Oneida County Drug Task Force set a goal to reduce overdose deaths by at least 10% by the end of 2022. One of the ways they’re trying to do this is by getting more feet on the ground with their street engagement team.
The street engagement team goes out in to the community to help those who may be suffering from addiction. They have a van that goes to a location where there are overdose hot spots, and they set up so community members can come to them for help.
Jennifer Cole is part of the street engagement team. She told NewsChannel 9 she was addicted to heroin and alcohol for more than six years. “I was originally addicted to painkillers. I got in a severe car accident and one day I went into the office and they told me they were no longer going to prescribe to me.” She said she ended up detoxing and went to the streets. She describes the six years as a black hole.
While struggling with addiction, she lost one of the most important people in her life. “I was married for 13 years and my husband passed away in my arms,” she said. “He had a heart attack and it was devastating and I ended up hitting what we call rock bottom, and I had nowhere to go and I felt like I had nothing to live for.” She said her drug and alcohol use got worse, but then decided to get help and has never looked back.
Cole is now out on the streets in Oneida County as part of the street engagement team. She knocks on doors to help people through addiction. She also goes out with the van and builds relationships with residents so they can feel more comfortable getting help.
The van has syringes, Band-Aids, and a medical staff on hand to draw blood or take urine samples if need be. Clients can also do virtual meetings with medical professionals to get them prescriptions or set up an appointment to get treatment.
Cole says she just wants their clients know that the team is there if they need them. “If they have that trust they know we’re not going to just put them to the way side, we’re not just going to walk away from their problems, and their problems are our problems and we want to help them through that.”
Members with the street engagement team said they decide where they go based on the hot spots on the Oneida County overdose map.
Cole has been sober for over two years. Since then, she’s bought a house and went back to school.