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Heroin task force gathers first full year of monthly overdose data

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Monroe County Heroin Task Force
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The Monroe County Heroin Task Force has released its latest month of data on opioid overdoses, marking the first time the county has had a full year of those statistics.

“There wasn’t a town that didn’t have at least one overdose in our community this year, and very few that didn’t have at least one fatal overdose this year,” said Monroe County Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew DeLyser, commander of the task force.

“Even going as far out as the furthest reaches of the county – Hamlin, Clarkson, Sweden – every community had overdoses,” DeLyser said.

One bright spot in the data: the most recent three months show consecutive declines in both fatal and non-fatal overdoses.

“It’s a little, tiny – and I can’t emphasize how tiny the victory is – but it’s a victory,” said DeLyser.

Still, in both demographic and geographic terms, the epidemic continues to grow. DeLyser said opioid addiction is targeting people he didn’t initially realize would be affected. “A lot more older people, middle-age, up into the elderly, are using,” he said.

The task force’s 2018 data show that the average age of people who overdosed hovered in the mid-30s, but DeLyser said that does not reflect the span of ages represented in the data. Previous WXXI reporting found opioid fatalities were up almost 400 percent over the last three years among people age 50 and older.

Both DeLyser and Monroe County public health commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza said they want to focus on anti-opioid education in 2019 – though DeLyser said the prevalence of opioid addiction in older populations will complicate that effort.

“Obviously, if you’re going to target an education message, it can’t be just to fifth-graders,” DeLyser said. “It has to be across the spectrum. It has to be to high school, college, young adults, older adults and middle-age adults.”

Mendoza said educational efforts also need to focus on attitudes in the broader population. “We’ve learned that there’s a lot of stigma still in our community. There are still a lot of people who view opioid addiction as a sign of a character flaw or a moral failing, and that’s certainly not the case.”

Mendoza said the pervasiveness of those attitudes can cost lives. He said they prevent people from acknowledging that they have a problem with substance abuse and discourage people from seeking treatment.

Mendoza also cautioned that the monthly statistics are preliminary.

“The beauty of the law enforcement reports has been that they are very timely. We learn a lot about these overdoses essentially in real-time,” Mendoza said.

Still, he said, “sometimes they’re wrong. That’s just the nature of the work: a law enforcement officer responding to a scene may not have all the information, and they certainly don’t have the results of toxicology analysis.”

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