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Monroe County opioid overdoses top 1,000 this year; task force responds

Monroe County Heroin Task Force
A map from the Monroe County Heroin Task Force shows the location of opioid overdoses recorded in the county in 2018. Since the end of October, the number of overdoses this year has surpassed 1,000.

Monroe County’s total overdoses for the year have surged past 1,000 in the last few days, topping last year’s numbers by more than 250 with six weeks still left in the year.

Those statistics, based on unofficial data from the sheriff’s department and the medical examiner’s office and shared at a meeting of the county’s heroin task force, paint a bleak picture of the epidemic’s toll, said Deputy Mike Favata.

“We’re not going to sugarcoat anything. These last two months have not been good,” Favata said. “We’ve got to keep working.”

And Favata said some of that work has changed this year. Almost every morning, Favata said, he and other deputies look over the list of people who have overdosed recently, and they visit those people or their families – not to make an arrest, but to make connections. They offer a ride to a treatment center, or leave behind information about treatment options if the person’s not willing to make the trip that day.

Overcoming drug users’ perceptions about the police has been slow going, Favata said. He wants people to know he’s not there to talk about crime. “Sometimes they close the door on us. Sometimes they’re polite, sometimes they’re not. But we’re there to say, ‘Let’s try to get you some help,’” he said. “Bottom line: We’re not going to arrest someone for overdosing.”

The strategy is a marked departure from law enforcement tactics of previous decades. Favata said it’s a potentially lifesaving way to use data that only the sheriff’s department has.

The next step in the department’s efforts to connect with people using opioids might be inviting people like counselors or addiction treatment specialists along for these visits. Favata said those experts might have more success than he does encouraging someone struggling with addiction to enter treatment.

There are still some kinks to work out, like what to do if a deputy suddenly gets called to a crime scene while they have a civilian passenger in the car, so the idea’s still under discussion at the sheriff’s department, where it has to clear legal hurdles before moving forward.

A list of addiction recovery services in Monroe County is available here.

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