New regional approach announced to tackle opioid use

KINGSTON – Ulster County had 56 deaths caused by opioid overdoses in 2018, and the approach then was to stress prevention, risk reduction, NARCAN training and family education.

And all overdoses were brought to emergency rooms.

“We were quite successful at getting it out there,” said Steve Kelley, president and CEO of the Ellenville Regional Hospital, of the approach then.

The number dropped in 2019 to 33 overdose deaths. The trend this year, likely augmented by the Covid-19 pandemic, is going upward again, and the county has recorded more than 40 deaths so far.

On Friday, a new approach was unveiled, with a partnership with the Ellenville Hospital, Catholic Charities of Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties and the Ulster County Department of Health, Mental Health and Family Health, to stem the opioid epidemic.

A high-risk mitigation team, with three squads, will be used to tackle the problem. A fatality review squad will look at an overdose death, including toxicology and medical reports and interviews with friends and family members, to determine if the death could have been prevented.

Advocates on another squad will then utilize a database to alert care managers, so they can help those who overdosed – but did not die. The database will highlight events that increase the vulnerability of another overdose, and help advocates reach out to those at-risk individuals.

A squad from the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office will be deployed to overdose scenes, and help individuals get the treatment they need, whether it’s a trip to the hospital or with NARCAN.  The squad will then follow-up with the individual within 24 hours of the overdose.

“This is a different approach than what we were using,” said Kelley. “This will build off of [the prior approach] because we’ll be able to instead of being reactionary, we’ll be able to increase engagement at the time when someone is disengaged.”

The epidemic has taxed law enforcement as families and advocates try to prevent overdose deaths.

“This is a huge problem,” said Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa.

The misery is expected to continue for society and families, but Figueroa is pleased with the new intra-agency strategy announced Friday.

“I couldn’t be more happier today with the collaboration with the Ellenville Hospital, the department of health and law enforcement,” he said. “People want help. We’re obligated to make change and make things better in our county. What you are seeing today is a columniation of that.”

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