OLEAN, N.Y. — Cattaraugus County is taking positive strides on many fronts to address the opioid crisis, county Public Health Director Dr. Kevin Watkins said.
Speaking to members of the Cattaraugus County Board of Health, Watkins said he was very impressed with the commitment of the county’s new Heroin/Opioid Task Force after its second meeting Friday.
Locally, the Council on Addiction Recovery Services (CAReS) in Cattaraugus County and the Allegany County Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse are teaming up to apply for a 50-bed facility for detox and treatment.
The biggest obstacle, Watkins said, is the “not in my backyard” reaction in some communities when it comes to such a facility. The groups are applying for the funding while looking for a location, he said. It could be a year or more before the facility opens.
In the meantime, the opioid crisis shows signs of worsening — particularly with the increased practice of dealers lacing heroin with fentanyl, Watkins said.
Last year there were 42 cases in Cattaraugus County where emergency responders or family members of addicts administered the drug Narcan to someone who had overdosed.
This year, through July 22, 49 cases have been reported in which Narcan was used. It reverses the effects of opioids and brings addicts who have overdosed back to consciousness.
In the first seven months, 10 people died from an opioid overdose, death certificate information shows.
CAReS plans to increase its counseling and drug aversion therapy in the Olean area, but few additional local residential beds are currently available, Watkins said.
The Salamanca and Gowanda police departments’ participation is being joined by the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Department in offering to help addicts who ask for it, Watkins said.
The police departments have continued to help place addicts in detox and residential treatment facilities wherever they are available, including California and Florida.
Families are asked to supply an airplane ticket to the facility. Health insurance, if available, can often pay for the initial 30-day residential treatment.
The Gowanda and Salamanca departments, who are part of the Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative movement, seek “scholarships” to help for the initial treatment of addicts who cannot otherwise afford the cost.
Watkins also told the health board he decided to pursue the possibility of piggybacking on the opioid hotline Erie County recently announced to help addicts into treatment. This would avoid the need to hire a coordinator for Cattaraugus County.
“They are open to the idea,” he said.
Allegany County officials have asked Watkins for help in setting up a similar task force in their county and asked for a seat on the Cattaraugus County Task Force.