Ulster County ratchets up fight against opioid crisis

KINGSTON – Ulster County Government, law enforcement and public health officials are ramping up their response to the opioid crisis after troubling overdose results for the county in 2018.

According to County Executive Patrick Ryan, Ulster ranked the highest in opioid overdoses out of every county in the state last year.

Wednesday afternoon, Ryan announced that not only will the county be changing their approach to combating the crisis: focusing on decreasing supply, as well as demand and increasing treatment; but, will be receiving almost $3 million in funding for the effort.

Of that, $2.5 million was awarded through the Community Hub and Spoke Empowerment (CHASE), a program through Columbia University to increase community engagement, education, data collection and usage to more thoroughly study the issue on a county level. Ulster was one of 16 counties in the state selected for funding. It will be the largest study of its kind, according to Columbia. Additionally, $216, 000 will be allocated over the next three years from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Some of the new approaches include medicated assisted treatment at county hospitals, appointing a director of Opioid Prevention Strategy for the county, implementing the county’s Opioid Task Force Plan of Action and investing in treatment to make it more accessible and streamlined, said Ryan.

“I am extremely encouraged and optimistic that we now have a solution, we have the right team and we have the funding and the resources to really address the problem,” said Ryan.

The county sheriff’s office is also making some changes and taking new approaches as part of this collaborative effort. New strategies such as medication assisted treatment at the county jail, an intervention within 72 hours of an overdose where law enforcement and an appointed treatment professional will meet with the individual to encourage and facilitate immediate treatment, as well as a 90 day stay for detox and treatment upon arrest for addicts before they serve jail time.

Figueroa: “People want action from their government”

Sheriff Juan Figueroa said the department realized they needed to change their approach with addicts from one focused on punishment, to one focused on public health and encouraging individuals to get well.

“People want action from their government, said Figueroa. “They want action from law enforcement. They want us to change the way we look at things. An individual is afflicted with addiction, that’s somebody’s son, mother, father, or brother, or uncle: it’s a family member and we have to look at it that way. The mindset is changing and it’s changing because it has to change.”

The county maintains the ultimate goal will be to reduce overdose deaths by 50 percent within two years.

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