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Officials blame fentanyl for rise in overdose deaths

The Daily Star - 12/7/2017

Dec. 07--The potent opioid fentanyl has been a factor in most opiate overdose deaths in the area for at least two years, according to Otsego County Coroner Terry Knapp. Police and health officials confirm that its presence in heroin is a hidden killer responsible for an uptick in deaths over recent months.

"In the past 90 days or so we've seen many more than the first half of the year," said LEAF Council on Alcoholism and Addictions Executive Director Julie Dostal. "Almost all of the heroin of the market has some fentanyl in it."

Delaware County public health officials said the drug has been migrating to rural areas, and Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. said it started showing up in the county about two years ago. Police say it is coming from larger cities rather than being made locally.

The state began to take action this fall, calling fentanyl a crisis in western New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would be putting legislation forward to add 11 types of fentanyl to the controlled substance list, and that the state would be pressuring insurers to not place arbitrary restrictions on naloxone, an emergency overdose reversal drug. A public awareness campaign was also announced.

Many people addicted to opiates are actively seeking fentanyl for its potency, and it might be missed in some drug screenings. Otsego County Addiction Recovery Services began covering fentanyl in its tests in recent months, as have drug treatment courts, according to program manager Miguel Martinez.

"I tell clients that tolerance drops very quickly just as it builds very quickly," he said.

An amount the size of a pin head can be enough to cause an overdose, and people using again after a few clean months are at a higher risk as dealers tinker with formulas. Martinez said the different analogues of fentanyl have allowed people to legally get away with using it.

Otsego County has had 16 overdose deaths this year compared to 58 in 2016, and Knapp credits the distribution of naloxone for the decline. Paramedics now carry the medication, which is available as an auto-injection device and nasal spray known as Narcan.

Devlin said most of his officers do as well, and that they will be retraining in about a week and getting the drug to more officers, particularly in the correctional facility. Reviving people from fentanyl often requires additional or higher doses.

"We're trying to cover our bases and be prepared," Devlin said.

Pharmacies across the state have started stocking naloxone, which is now available without a prescription. Walgreens began carrying Narcan at all locations nationwide in October.

Erin Jerome, staff writer, may be reached at (607) 441-7221, or at ejerome@thedailystar.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DS_ErinJ .

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(c)2017 The Daily Star (Oneonta, N.Y.)

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