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Monroe County opioid overdoses peak again in October

Fentanyl is increasingly common in illicit opioids sold in Monroe County, officials say. A couple grams of substance can be lethal, according to drug and health authorities.
Drug Enforcement Administration
Fentanyl is increasingly common in illicit opioids sold in Monroe County, officials say. A couple grams of substance can be lethal, according to drug and health authorities.

October saw the most opioid overdoses in Monroe County since the sheriff’s heroin task force started keeping track in January.

It was also the second-most-deadly month for people who overdosed, with 17 fatalities in the county, the sheriff’s data showed.

The oldest overdose victim was 65, according to the county’s data. The youngest was 17. There were 116 overdoses total.

“I cried. I just cried,” said Becky Baker, describing her reaction when she saw the latest data.

Baker shares her phone number with people addicted to opioids and their families. She tells them to call if they want help finding a slot in a treatment program.

Now, she says, she gets as many calls about deaths as she does about treatment.

“My phone has not stopped. The funerals keep coming,” Baker said. “I keep getting messages that ‘did you know so-and-so-has lost their life?’ It’s gut-wrenching. It’s heart-breaking. Our grief group keeps growing and growing.”

Both task force commander Andy DeLyser and Monroe County’s public health commissioner, Dr. Michael Mendoza, laid the blame for the deaths on fentanyl.

DeLyser said the county is in the midst of a transition in the composition of the illicit opioids sold here, from heroin to fentanyl. Fentanyl is more powerful and more deadly than heroin.

Mendoza said fentanyl is the “acute reason” for the surging opioid death toll, but he said the underlying cause, addiction, remains the same.

Mendoza said the county’s public health approach to fighting the epidemic is not changing. The aim is to educate people about the potentially lethal effects of opioid use, distribute naloxone to reverse overdoses, and make addiction treatment services available to people who need them.

Baker, who lost her son to an overdose in 2016 and now runs the group Substance Overdose Awareness Recovery Services, or SOARS, said the county needs more inpatient detox services where people can get through withdrawal under medical supervision.

Baker said the increase in the number of walk-in sites and outpatient recovery services is promising, but “often people need to be separated from their community” during the start of their recovery, “so they’re not tempted to use again.”

Brett was the health reporter and a producer at WXXI News. He has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
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