Times-Herald Record –
The epidemic has caused a huge uptick in overdoses and a huge uptick on overdose fatalities in Ulster County
Ulster County was making progress in the fight against the opioid epidemic, through a lot of hard work and financial investment. After a bad year in 2018, overdose deaths dropped significantly in 2019.
Then COVID-19 hit.
“The epidemic has caused a huge uptick in overdoses and a huge uptick on overdose fatalities in Ulster County,” said Sheriff Juan Figueroa.
The rise in fatal opioid overdoses is not confined to our region. The pattern has held nationally and across the state, as people deal with isolation and new barriers to treatment, said Dr. Robin Kerner, an associate research scientist with Columbia University’s Social Intervention Group and senior project director of the HEALing (Helping to End Addiction Long-Term) Communities Study.
The federally funded project, one of four in the U.S., will study and develop data-driven, evidence-based strategies to reduce overdose deaths. New York’s study involves 16 counties, all severely affected by the opioid epidemic, in two waves. Ulster and Putnam counties are among the first wave, with interventions underway; Orange and Sullivan counties are in wave two, preparing to start interventions in 2021.
The opioid epidemic has been festering and growing in our region for years, fed initially by prescription drugs. There are plenty of people who got addicted to painkillers following an injury or a crash, and then turned to doctor-shopping as their addiction grew, Figueroa said. To curb that behavior and overprescribing, the state instituted the centralized opioid prescription database.
“They couldn’t shop anymore for doctors,” Figueroa said, “so they went to the next, worse thing.”