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‘Enough is enough’: County leaders plan to attack opioid epidemic

Monroe County and Community leaders tackle the opioid epidemic
Racquel Stephen
Monroe County and Community leaders tackle the opioid epidemic

Monroe County officials said Wednesday that opioid-related deaths surged in 2020.

Fatal overdoses rose by 31% in the county, from 181 in 2019 to 238 last year. While males made up half of the deaths. African Americans accounted for 26.5% of the deaths in 2020, up from 21% in 2019.

"The increase in overdose deaths we are reporting today, by and large, is unfortunately a symptom of COVID-19," public health commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza said before taking a moment of silence for the lives that were lost.

Mendoza was joined by County Executive Adam Bello and community addiction service leaders to highlight resources available for those suffering from substance abuse and their families. Bello said solving the opioid epidemic is going to require a change in outreach. 

“Now is the time to say enough is enough,” said Bello. “We need to do something different.”

Earlier this year, the county established the Improving Addiction Coordination Team, or IMPACT. The team's mission is to bring resources to where the people are, including homeless shelters, food pantries, and other locations where people tend to gather.

“We are teaching people how to remain safe when using, and connecting them to resources if and when they are ready to stop using,” said Dr. Tisha Smith, director of IMPACT. 

Smith said her team of eight is working hard to increase the amount of Narcan, an overdose antidote, that is available to the community by handing out resource bags.

“Before the creation of the IMPACT team, Monroe County had no outreach services for those mired in opioid addiction,” Smith said.

Monroe County is also working hand in hand with Huther Doyle, a local agency that provides outpatient treatment, housing and telehealth counseling to those suffering from addiction. 

“The epidemic and addiction is not a 9 to 5 Monday through Friday issue,” said Kelly Reed, Huther Doyle’s CEO. “It is a 24/7 issue that we have to address that affects everyone in this community.”

Racquel Stephen is a health and environment reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Rochester and a master's degree in broadcasting and digital journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.