BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Overdoses spiked in Broome County last month. Officials at the county health department said there were nine suspected fatal overdoses in July, up from two in June.
Advocates for people with substance use disorders are now looking to address the spike, while also addressing housing needs.
Marissa Knapp, the Opioid Overdose Prevention Coordinator for the Broome County Health Department, said nine fatalities is extremely high compared to past months. There were two suspected overdose deaths in July 2020.
“So nine is a huge increase,” Knapp stressed.
County officials issued an alert after seeing a surge in overdoses over one week in mid-July. Knapp said the highly potent opioid fentanyl has been found in non-opiate drugs where users might not expect to find it, like methamphetamines and cocaine.
In the first 24 hours after the alert, Arielle Conrad, a homeless outreach peer advocate with the Addiction Center of Broome County (ACBC), began knocking on doors. In neighborhoods with reported spikes, Conrad gave out naloxone, the overdose reversal drug commonly sold as Narcan.
“There was a lot of repeat addresses, which typically means the person doesn’t have a house, or was staying in this house or this house,” Conrad said.
Clients experiencing homelessness often do not own phones to call emergency responders or to request Narcan from peers, Conrad said. Homeless clients may also use illicit substances alone, which could increase risk of a fatal overdose.
There has not been sufficient data collected on how many people experiencing homelessness in Broome County use drugs. A point-in-time count conducted by the Southern Tier Homeless Coalition identified 68 adults with substance use disorders in emergency housing on Jan. 25.
During the count on Jan. 27, 2020, there were a combined 105 adults with substance use disorders in emergency and transitional housing, as well as unsheltered.
Conrad said her clients facing housing instability often use drugs to cope with the trauma of homelessness.
“If you are homeless and living on the streets, and you’ve lost your children, you lost everything, everyone’s left you and you’re sleeping under a bridge, for instance,” Conrad said. “That might be your only coping mechanism to be able to handle the strong mental crisis that you’re in,”
Nicholas Iacovelli, another homeless outreach peer advocate at ACBC, has worked with clients to find treatment as well as stable, affordable housing. Otherwise, clients could be in a situation where the risk of an overdose is elevated.
“People are gonna take a bed or a floor, kind of wherever they can get it,” Iacovelli said. “Usually it’s going to be in an unsafe environment.”
Iacovelli and Conrad want to get their clients into homes, but will meet them with harm reduction resources, like test trips, wherever they are.
The Broome County Health Department reported three suspected fatal overdoses in August so far, as well as 14 non-fatal overdoses. There were 43 non-fatal overdoses in July.