BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Broome County officials reported an increase in fatal overdoses this month with more than double the number of lethal incidents in February of last year.
As of Wednesday, there have been at least seven suspected overdose deaths this month, up from three in January.
Marissa Knapp, Opioid Prevention Coordinator with the Broome Opioid Awareness Council, part of the Broome County Health Department, said she is waiting on the toxicology reports of a few of the suspected overdoses to confirm the cause of death.
She said the spike in fatalities may be related to fentanyl, a synthetic and deadly opioid.
“There’s been a trend across the state right now with fentanyl being found in substances beyond just the typical opioids that we see, like heroin,” Knapp said.
According to Knapp and other harm reduction advocates, fentanyl has been identified more frequently in drugs where it had typically not been found, like cocaine and meth.
Alexis Pleus, Executive Director of the Southern Tier-based harm reduction organization Truth Pharm, said she heard about similar increases from other advocates in Delaware, Chenango and Tioga counties.
Fentanyl use in Chenango County increased by 135 percent since COVID-19 restrictions were implemented across the state in March, according to county screening data reported by the Daily Star.
In April of last year, Broome County also reported a surge in fatal overdoses over a few days. According to Knapp, there were 39 reported fatal overdoses in 2020, four more than reported in 2019. Fentanyl blended into other drugs, such as stimulants, can be especially deadly if the person does not have a tolerance for opioids already.
Pleus said that was the case in many of the fatal overdose instances she learned about in the last few months. “Someone who might use benzodiazepines, again, if they don’t routinely use opioids, they don’t have a tolerance for it,” she explained. “Even if it’s a little bit of fentanyl in the substance, they’re just much more likely to overdose than someone who traditionally uses opioids.”
There have been 23 non-fatal overdoses counted in February so far, but Knapp said many more go unreported each month. People don’t always call 911 for medical assistance after an overdose, especially if they already have the overdose reversal drug Narcan on site.
Knapp said Narcan kits should be kept on hand like any other tool used in medical emergencies.
“Just like we know CPR, the Heimlich, having AEDs available—same thing with a Narcan kit. It’s just so important to have,” Knapp stressed. “The only thing it’s going to do is save a life.”
With the increase in drugs laced with fentanyl, Pleus said it is important for anyone who uses substances and their loved ones to have Narcan, not only those that knowingly use opioids.
“It doesn’t matter what substance you’re using right now, whether it’s coke or meth, we need to have Narcan in everybody’s hands,” Pleus said.
The Broome Opioid Awareness Council is offering free virtual Narcan trainings and kits with its partner organizations, including the Southern Tier AIDS Program, the Addiction Center of Broome County and Truth Pharm, to those interested.