KINGSTON – There has been a “huge uptick” in opioid use as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa said Tuesday.
That declaration was the framework for announcement of a new program to tackle the scourge.
County Executive Patrick Ryan said something must be done because since the pandemic a year ago, overdoses have spiraled.
“In 2020, largely as a result of the pandemic our opioid-related fatalities in Ulster County increased 94 percent. We lost 64 of our residents to a fatal opioid overdose and we had 474 total overdoses. So, comparing that to the COVID pandemic, we have lost 220 to that, but this is a significant of life, of families shattered,” he said.
The county has received $1.4 million in additional grant funding toward opioid use prevention and $500,000 in National Association of County and City Health Officials grant funding.
Sheriff Figueroa said much of that money will be used in a new fight against the drug epidemic.
Not only do we have our URGENT team going out and making these arrests for stuff that is outside the county, but our Oracle team actually goes out, if there are users that get arrested, or users, and put these people into rehab because they are just doing this to support their habits. They are not true criminals. And that’s the difference in approach that law enforcement is doing now; what we were doing in the past wasn’t working,” he said.
Ryan noted that since 2018, the overdose fatality rate has been cut nearly in half due to county programs that support harm reduction, connections to care strategies, and intervention.