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County heroin task force issues first update: opioid deaths continue to climb

Brett Dahlberg
Monroe County Opioid Task Force commander Andy DeLyser says the solution to the county's opioid epidemic lies in education and prevention.

Six months after the formation of the Monroe County Heroin Task Force, law enforcement officials said the death toll from opioids is still climbing.

But officers have learned some important lessons, said task force commander Andy DeLyser.

“We’re never, ever going to arrest our way out of this problem. I don’t believe we’re ever, ever going to treat our way out of this problem,” DeLyser said.

Instead, the solution lies in education and prevention, DeLyser said. “We want to give information to people, so when they’re at that point of taking that first hit, they say, ‘I have been given a lot of information. Wow. Maybe this is something that I don’t want to do.’”

Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter likened his vision for a successful approach to the opioid epidemic to the anti-smoking campaigns of past decades. “That was education,” Baxter said. “We got out there with a profound message, we started educating the young and on through the elders, and we started doing commercials that none of us enjoy watching, because they’re difficult to watch.” Education is “a huge part” of a successful anti-drug effort, Baxter said.

Baxter and DeLyser said getting information about the health and economic impacts of opioid abuse to people before they try the drugs for the first time is key to preventing addiction.

Credit Monroe County Sheriff's Office
More than 500 people overdosed on opioids in Monroe County in the first half of 2018--mostly in Rochester. Eighty-five of those overdoses were fatal.

The department’s most recent data show that 85 people died from heroin overdoses in Monroe County in the first half of 2018. That’s a rate that outpaces countywide deaths from breast and prostate cancer combined. The deaths were largely concentrated in the city.

Baxter said the task force executed 50 search warrants that yielded more than a kilogram of heroin and fentanyl in its first six months. That’s the equivalent of 20,000 doses of the drugs, Baxter said.

The sheriff praised his deputies’ efforts. “We’re knocking it out of the ballpark on enforcement. I couldn’t be more proud of what we’re doing,” he said.

Community advocates said the county’s health response is lagging behind its enforcement efforts. Becky Baker, who lost her son to an overdose in 2016 and now advocates for treatment options for those struggling with addiction, said there are not enough detox facilities.

“We have 25 beds in this county. It’s sad,” Baker said. She recounted trying to help a man who wanted to enter detox on Sunday. “He was ready right now. I had to call eight facilities outside of Monroe County and could not find this gentleman a bed.”