Steuben County is tackling the opioid epidemic.
For a relatively rural county, it’s been hit pretty hard. The number of deaths nearly tripled in 2016 and the county says it doesn’t have the resources to fight it.
For example, county law enforcement says it can’t keep heroin and other drugs from coming in.
For example, District Attorney Brooks Baker said there used to be ten people on board as full-time drug investigators. Now, there’s just two full time and one part-time investigator.
Sheriff James Allard said that’s meant choosing between one investigation or another because they just don’t have the manpower.
“We’re literally making life-and-death situations on where to conduct our enforcement efforts based on the information we have,” Allard said. “Where if we had the personnel, it wouldn’t be a choice, it would be a go and we would be able to enforce in both areas.”
Allard added that Steuben is uniquely placed for heroin traffic because of major highways that cut through the county.
Help from state or federal officials isn’t likely right now because, Allard says, Steuben is too small to meet that threshold.
Steuben County needs to help itself when it comes to treatment. Local leaders wants to create an “incarcerated-patient” treatment program.
The Sheriff’s office says 80 percent of inmates have a substance abuse issue when they enter prison. At the same time, the county has a lack of inpatient treatment beds, including none for women.
“The reality is we don’t have enough treatment beds and the programs that we have aren’t good enough,” said Baker. “This is a unique opportunity to create an absolutely secure inpatient, in-jail treatment program with enforced aftercare which doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
The program involves things like counseling and self-help meetings. Baker added that the inmates will be in a controlled environment with no access to drugs because they’re already in jail.
Other proposals include outreach programs to kids and families and a law that encourages drug users to report overdoses without fear of arrest. Funding sources would vary based on the program. Some cost would go to taxpayers, some costs would be covered by volunteers. Baker said many of the costs would be less than a funeral for an overdose victim.
Monday’s announcement compounds one made in November that Steuben is filing a lawsuit against Big Pharma over the epidemic. Several other regional counties are doing this as well including Broome, Tioga, Tompkins, Otsego, and Schuyler Counties.