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Politics and Government

Opioid deaths could hit record high, Gillibrand urges more fed funding

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Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office
There have been 86 opioid-related deaths in Onondaga County in the first half of 2020.

Onondaga County is on track to have its highest number of opioid-related deaths in almost 10 years. It’s a trend happening across upstate and the rest of the country. The pandemic is making substance-use disorder worse. Local treatment facilities are struggling. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is urging the federal government to help.

Wil Murtaugh, executive director of the ACR Health clinic, said they just ran out of fentanyl test strips in the Mohawk Valley and Syracuse.

“We might see an uptick in overdoses because they can’t test their drug right now,” Murtaugh said.

The clinic has also had periods where it can’t get enough syringes for its exchange program. Someone may use more of a drug if they don’t have extra syringes.

“That may be causing overdoses too,” he said.

Everything is difficult to get and funding at ACR Health and other treatment facilities has been sporadic and limited. Murtaugh said they are getting paid by New York State, but 20% is being withheld. They need a constant, steady stream of funding.

“I’ve never seen clients as desperate as they are right now," he said.

Recognizing the correlation between opioid overdoses and the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen. Gillibrand is urging the Senate to include $40 billion in funding for addiction treatment and services in the next COVID-relief package, if there is one. Talks have stalled in Washington.

“It will provide a financial lifeline to the mental health and addiction providers and organizations that because of the economic crisis, are in jeopardy of closing their doors forever,” Gillibrand said. 

The legislation has bipartisan support, because the problem is so widespread. It’s already passed the House. There’s an opportunity for another stimulus bill to pass Congress between now and Christmas. Gillibrand said almost every coronavirus-related program, whether it deals with unemployment, rent, food, or addiction, is due to run out. 

“We’re kind of down to our last dollar of money we’ve already appropriated,” she said. “We really need another bill by the end of the year.”