The national fentanyl crisis has spread into parts of Central New York, causing deaths at alarming rates.
“We facilitate a number of harm reduction initiatives," said Mariah Senecal-Reilly, mental health and substance use initiatives program coordinator for the Onondaga County Health Department. "Harm reduction is helping people who use drugs to be as safe as they possibly can while they continue to use.”
Senecal-Reilly said the department distributes naloxone, known also by the brand name Narcan, widely across the community and offers training on how to use it.
“We can do trainings in-person, virtually. We have an online training. We have a text line where people can contact us, and we’ll mail it or drop it off. So we encourage everyone in the community to recognize the signs of overdose, have Narcan and carry it with you, just in the odd chance that you could potentially save someone’s life,” Senecal-Reilly said.
The health department provides free fentanyl testing strips. Senecal-Reilly said a person may still choose to use the substance, knowing it contains fentanyl. But they can make safer choices when aware.
“They can use less. They can do a test shot. They could have somebody with them for if they do overdose. They could potentially call for emergency help or administer Narcan,” she said.
According to an Onondaga County health report, there were 186 opioid-related fatalities in 2021, and 123 of those deaths were fentanyl-related.
Senecal-Reilly said they do an extensive amount of street outreach to educate people about drugs containing fentanyl.
“We let people know that that could be a possibility. They might be getting something that they think is one substance, and it could be something totally different,” Senecal-Reilly said.
“Over 60 percent of the overdoses in Oneida County have been a result of fentanyl combined with other drugs, often times,” said Dan Gilmore, Oneida County health director.
Gilmore said that as of Dec. 16 of this year, there have been 81 deaths.
“We’re doing a lot of outreach in the community to talk to people, to connect them with mental health providers or substance abuse advisors or peers,” Gilmore said.
A few years ago, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, District Attorney Scott McNamara and Sheriff Robert Maciol created an opioid task force.
“The purpose of that group is to develop tools for the community, or to promote tools for the community, to reduce deaths and to make people aware of the issues, particularly in this case like fentanyl, of things that could be very harmful to them,” Gilmore said.
Along with providing test trips and naloxone kits, the task force also provides Deterra bags.
“Pour in warm water. There’s a carbon-based material in the pouch. Poor in some warm water and then add in the expired medication you would like to discard. Or, if someone wanted to discard fentanyl tablets, they could put them in there also, and they would become inactive,” Gilmore said.
Oneida County has over 100 emergency test kits dispersed in different buildings and businesses.