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Oneida County issues calls to action after large increase in overdose deaths

Thomas Marthisen

Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. have reached a new high, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 107,000 Americans died last year, a 50% increase over a two-year period.

These latest numbers have prompted one central New York community to issue a call to action to reduce overdose deaths.

There was a 27% increase in overdose deaths in Oneida County from 2020 to 2021. So the Oneida County Opioid Task Force has declared the call to action with a goal of reducing overdose deaths by at least 10% by the end of the year.

Task Force coordinator Lisa Worden said a four-pronged attack includes a big focus on fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid found in 90% of the county’s overdose deaths last year. Worden said fentanyl is everywhere, including methamphetamine and cocaine, so it can cause overdoses in unsuspecting users.

"These are people who don’t have a tolerance for a drug, an opioid, and it puts them at greater risk for a fatal overdose, said Worden. “Also because it’s in everything now, people who weren’t seeking it, now that they’ve used it inadvertently, liked it and convert to using opioids."

And the latest wrinkle, is fentanyl coming in tablet form, and there have been incidents where it’s been suspected in an overdose.

“One person thought they were taking Xanax, and they overdosed,” said Worden. “And it’s suspected it’s fentanyl because naloxone, Narcan, was used to reverse the overdose.”

One aspect of the call to action is public awareness. Worden says users have to assume fentanyl is in every drug on the street. Other initiatives include quicker access to treatment, more availability of naloxone and fentanyl test strips, and expanded street programs. Worden notes one street outreach effort late last year cut overdoses by 50%.

“If we can make that impact in the last quarter of 2021, we certainly have the capability of doing that throughout 2022,” she said.

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.