ITHACA, N.Y.—Fentanyl concerns have been a frequent topic of conversation around the county over the past several months, and at Monday’s Health and Human Services Committee meeting, a public comment was made, urging the committee to move forward with an opioid task force. The discussion of opioids in the community can be viewed here.

After losing her son to a fentanyl overdose in July 2021, AJ Kircher regularly speaks about the dangers of fentanyl and works as an advocate for providing community resources, like fentanyl testing strips.

“Since losing my son, July 1 of last year due to fentanyl poisoning, I’ve since met five now new families locally that have lost their kids in a similar fashion,” she said. “We’re just losing too many people, and at the same time, we’re not organizing ourselves to have the critical conversations we need to be having. There’s so much work to do on this effort.”

Earlier in September, the New York State Department of Health and Tompkins County Health Department issued a warning of an increase in opioid-related deaths in Central New York, and recommended local programs including the Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County, Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services, REACH Medical and the Southern Tier AIDS Program that provide addiction services as well as fentanyl testing strips.

In August, New York State announced a standing pharmacy order for Naloxone (Narcan), and the Alcohol & Drug Council announced that it would be restarting its monthly virtual Narcan trainings on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. Interested parties can email registration@alcoholdrugcouncil.org to register. 

Public Health Director Frank Kruppa said that the county is waiting to hear about the final total amount of funds that will be available from the opioid settlement

“We do recommend that a task force be formed at this point,” Kruppa said, explaining that the reason the task force doesn’t exist yet is because a substance use subcommittee along with several working groups. “I think it makes sense now to have a task force — my recommendation was to have the task force focus on the opioid settlement money.”

Kruppa also said that partner organizations around the community are being supplied with fentanyl testing strips to hand out, but did mention that “The challenge with fentanyl strips is who gives them out and where people will be comfortable going to get them — they’re specifically used for testing street drugs, and where somebody will walk in and pick up a fentanyl strip is limited, right because of the concern about you know, being then stigmatized or having consequences associated with it.”

“Putting out warnings when we have poisoned supply, […] the best strategy for preventing fentanyl deaths is prevention and education, we have got to let people know that four out of six pills on the street are going to kill you,” Kirchner said. “Oftentimes, we have batches of bad drugs and we fail to alert the community. Please, let’s do this differently moving forward.”

Kirchner also said that since last July, she has met five families locally who have lost their children in similar ways due to overdosing.

Kruppa said that the health department has been evaluating overdose deaths over the past 10 years as part of the data that will be given to the task force once formed.

The committee will be asking Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature Shawn Black about logistics on where the task force will sit before formally moving forward with task force creation.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...