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'People are disappearing' as opioid crisis rages on

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News File Photo

The number of heroin and opioid overdoses continues to rise in central New York. According to the latest figures from the Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office, there have been 30 overdose deaths to date in 2016, compared with 52 all of last year.  The opioid epidemic is also starting to affect some of the agencies that deal with people addicted to heroin.
Will Murtaugh, the director of ACR Health in Syracuse, got involved with the agency 23 years ago. At that time there was no cure for AIDS, so volunteers and workers would be dealing with the death of clients on a regular basis. He said it’s happening again, this time because of heroin and other opioid overdoses.

"It’s frightening, it really is," Murtaugh told WRVO News. "People are just disappearing."

And not just clients. Last week, an employee of the agency relapsed and died of an overdose.

"We’ve lost peers that volunteer and try to reach out to people and get them into treatment," Murtaugh said. "We’ve lost peers to overdosing. We’re losing our friends and family and neighbors and co-workers. It’s something the whole community has to address.”

ACR Health is on the front line of the heroin epidemic in central and northern New York, offering a syringe exchange program for users and training for Narcan, a drug which can halt an overdose.

Murtaugh said one of the biggest dangers leading to many of these deaths is the stigma attached to opioid use. He said that forces many users to take the drug alone, so there’s no one to administer the antidote Narcan or get them to emergency treatment, in the instance of an overdose.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.