Ulster County wants to cut opioid deaths in half

Pat Ryan (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

County Executive Pat Ryan said he hopes to cut Ulster County’s opioid death rate by half over the next two years by using what he said will be innovative approaches to enforcement, treatment and prevention. The initiatives will be funded through nearly $3 million in grant money targeting rural areas of the state hit hardest by the opioid epidemic. 

At a Wednesday, July 10 press conference at the County Office Building to announce the plan, Ryan noted that Ulster County’s death rate from opioids had risen 345 percent between 2010 and 2018. Last year, Ulster led New York’s 62 counties in opioid deaths per capita. “We are in a public health crisis,” said Ryan, who made combating the opioid epidemic a centerpiece of his campaign for county executive.

Ryan’s plan builds on the work of an opioid task force appointed by former county executive Mike Hein. The proposal will be funded by a $2.5 million federal grant that will create a partnership with Columbia University to implement the program. Another $216,000 in state funds will pay for expanded treatment and overdose prevention services. 


Among the most significant changes is a proposal to introduce “Medication Assisted Treatment” to the Ulster County Jail. MAT programs, which include the use of opioid substitutes like methadone and Suboxone have been proven effective in reducing deaths from opioid overdose and reducing addicts’ dependence on street drugs. But, until recently, corrections officials have almost universally resisted their introduction into jails and prisons. 

At Wednesday’s press conference, Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa said that he wanted to give addicts entering the jail a range of options, including continuing methadone or Suboxone treatment begun before their incarceration. Figueroa said that he also planned to expand the work of the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team to include outreach to addicts. Under Figueroa’s proposal, URGENT would add a detective and a drug counselor. The team would be charged with contacting addicts and their families within 72 hours of a nonfatal overdose to offer treatment options. The effort would also include the development of a list of people deemed at high risk for an overdose who would be the focus of similar outreach efforts. 

“People want action from government, people want action from law enforcement,” said Figueroa. “The mindset is changing because it has to change.” 

New director

Ryan’s proposal also includes the appointment of former Marbletown supervisor Vin Martello to the newly created post of director of opioid prevention and strategy. In that role, he will be responsible for implementing the recommendations of the county opioid task force. The recommendations are grouped into three broad categories — reducing supply, reducing demand and improving treatment and recovery services. Specific recommendations include the creation of a peer-to-peer education program targeting addicts, a program to educate healthcare providers and the public about alternatives to opioids in pain management and expanding programs that allow people to dispose of unwanted prescription drugs safely. 

County officials said that opioid deaths in the county were trending down in 2018 after steadily rising for nearly a decade. But Ryan said his goal of a 50 percent reduction in two years was just the beginning of what he hoped would be the total eradication of overdose deaths in the county. 

“We’ve done the thinking, we’ve done the analysis,” said Ryan. “Now is the time for action.” 

There are 5 comments

    1. Aynti-Rand

      Ayn Rand died of lung cancer by way of cigarettes. A fitting syllogism. I’m sure she’d agree.

      -Anyone who chooses to do opioid drugs has made a bad choice.
      -Anyone who makes a bad choice pays the price.
      -Ergo, anyone who chooses to do opioid drugs pays the price.

      She paid her price, so why not these poor fools who chose to take opioid drugs? Oh, wait, she’s your hero or whatever. She’s okay, they’re bad. That’s the way of the world? You must understand the world! Or, perhaps you just like how it is presently treating the people whom you dislike for whatever reason? The price in this case is one’s life! Do you understand your own life’s worth? Do you suspect that others are worth less than you? Maybe that’s what you are addicted to, a sense of being “better”. That’s the drug old Ayn sold you. Fact of the matter is, if you became addicted to any substance through a moment of weakness or your own hubris, you’d be in the same boat. Would you so quickly condemn yourself? Are you capable of that? If not, divest yourself of illusions, and consider the alternatives you yourself would face, since that is what you must care for.

      I’d love to see an Atlas Shrugged adaptation where all the drug dealers who sell opiates, possibly fetanyl laced drugs, they all just decide to quit, because “nobody appreciates them enough for their bold entrepreneurism,” and in the end everyone cheers, because that’s for the best. Especially the corporate opioid dealers. That is the ultimate objective, the good of all rather than the good of a few who would poison others for their own sake.

      Perhaps you lack empathy, and any sense of value other than what you put upon your own inflated stock, which is seemingly bankrupt by the looks of things. You’re playing the ghoul when you say such selfish and facile things. If man is the measure, then that measure is not just of one, and if that measure did tragically happen to be you, then you won’t span the world with such a measure. I pity you.

      “Objectivism: Not even once!”

      1. wowjustwow

        The dude just gave an opinion and you reply with paragraphs of vapid sanctimony. I bet you look in the mirror and admire your virtue as you stroke your ego and denounce your white privilege. Unfrigginbelievable. Addiction effects everyone in the addict’s orbit – the parents, the kids, the spouses – and these peripheral lives are always disrupted and often destroyed. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s been an ongoing opioid crisis for 50 years. You only notice it now because it’s in YOUR neighborhood and there’s someone to sue.


    What kind of a goal is that? We only want half of the people dead. The goal should be to eliminate ALL deaths.

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