KINGSTON, N.Y. – Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan announced today on International Overdose Awareness Day that Ulster County has declared a Public Health Emergency due to the recent spikes in deaths caused by fentanyl. From the period January through July, opioid-related deaths increased 171% in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. For that same time period (January through July), fentanyl-related deaths increased from 58% of all opioid-related deaths in 2018 to 89% of all opioid-related deaths in 2020. Fentanyl is fifty-times more potent than heroin and 100-times more potent than morphine.
“We’ve seen the tragic and lethal impacts of fentanyl right here in our own community leading to 34 deaths already this year,” said County Executive Ryan. “I’m declaring this Public Health Emergency to make sure we have all hands on deck, working together, to combat this deadly drug. This is an issue that I take extremely seriously and we will continue to work with our many partners to continue to raise awareness and work to save lives.”
“Fentanyl’s reign of terror has expanded during the pandemic. The Ulster County District Attorney’s Office joins the County Executive and the County Sheriff in focusing on reducing the flow of fentanyl-laced narcotics into our community,” said Ulster County District Attorney, David Clegg. “Drug traffickers are peddling extremely dangerous and deadly drugs, and whenever possible will be held accountable not only for the illegal sale of drugs, but for the deaths they cause. We are also reemphasizing the use of drug court and other forms of diversion to provide treatment and rehabilitation for persons who come into the criminal justice system with addiction problems.”
“People are tired of talk, they want action from their government and law enforcement to combat this epidemic that is continuing to rip apart our communities,” said Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa. “Together with County Executive Ryan, we are setting up a spike alert system to better communicate the risk to people in addition to the work we are doing in the Sheriff’s Office to assist those who have overdosed and help them get treatment, as well as work with the impacted families. Tackling the opioid epidemic is one of my priorities as Sheriff, and I am thankful to have so many partners in Ulster County Government to combat this crisis.”
To combat this crisis, Ulster County’s Healing Communities Study (HEAL) team will be partnering with the Ulster County’s Sheriff’s office to create a spike alert communications plan. This spike alert communications plan will give real-time updates to treatment providers when there is a spike of overdoses, fatal or nonfatal, in a 24 hour period. By communicating this risk providers can be more aware that there could be a bad batch of fentanyl-laced drugs in circulation. The Ulster County Sheriff’s Office will manage a data system that tracks these spikes. By partnering with the Sheriff’s Office, Ulster County’s HEAL team and other County Departments will utilize their connections to the treatment community and media presence to give real-time updates to people who are at risk of overdosing. Spike alerts will include information on how to obtain Narcan, treatment, and harm-reduction supplies. The HEALing communities team is offering these alerts to treatment facilities and agencies throughout Ulster County.
In addition to the spike alerts, the HEAL team will also be creating a public education campaign on the risks of fentanyl and the prevalence of this toxic substance in our community. This campaign will include a social media campaign and radio PSA’s.