TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—An uptick in opioid-related deaths in Central New York is on the radar of both the New York State Department of Health and the Tompkins County Health Department.

According to an announcement from the local health department, there were 12 drug-related deaths reported to the health department as of June 2022 (there is normally a significant lag time in data collection for drug-related deaths), theoretically putting the county on pace for 24 deaths for the entire year.

Overdoses have been climbing locally, from 22 in 2017, down to 17 in 2019, and up to 19 and 25 in 2020 and 2021, respectively. According to the state department of health, Tompkins County’s death rate per 100,000 was about average for this area of the state, if significantly lower than a few other nearby counties, though that data is only available through 2019.

Relatedly, the health department stated that 911 call numbers for overdoses were quite a bit higher in 2021 than they were in 2020, with 67 calls in 2021 versus 31 in 2020. The county is on pace for 50 in 2022, representing another high year overall but a drop from 2021. These are not necessarily calls that result in deaths of those who overdose.

“Multiple factors affect the rate of overdose in our community, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic beginning in 2020 and the presence of fentanyl, a highly addictive synthetic substance that is added into illicit street drugs to increase consumption and is highly associated with risk of overdose death,” the health department stated. “Risk of overdose is increased when fentanyl is mixed in with other substances, an issue that is increasingly found with the purchase of illicit street drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, crystal methamphetamine and illicitly manufactured pills, including benzodiazepines and other psychostimulants like Molly and MDMA.”

The health department also stated that there is now a statewide pharmacy standing order for Narcan, which is meant to be administered when a person is suffering from an overdose to stop the effects of opioids. In essence, the standing order makes Narcan easier to access from pharmacies, though insurance is necessary for it to be free for customers. Pharmacies will bill insurance for the Narcan.

Those without insurance can call 2-1-1 or (1-877-211-8667) for assistance. Narcan kits can be found for free at local agencies such as the Alcohol and Drug Council, Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services, REACH Medical or the Southern Tier AIDS Program, which also offer Narcan trainings and fentanyl test strips.

“We are advising the community about the risk of fentanyl in street drugs as an effort to promote harm reduction,” Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa said. “Fentanyl is extremely dangerous. If you are buying street drugs, please test for fentanyl, carry Narcan and never use alone. If you desire to seek support to reduce your use of street drugs, please reach out for support to the program of your choice.”

From the health department:

To protect yourself or those you care about, the following overdose prevention strategies are recommended:

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com