Ulster declares public health emergency as opiate deaths increase 171%

From left to right: Undersheriff Eric Benjamin, District Attorney David Clegg, and County Executive Pat Ryan

Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan announced this week that the county has declared a Public Health Emergency due to the recent spikes in deaths caused by fentanyl.

From the period January through July, opioid-related deaths in the county increased 171 percent in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. For that same time period, fentanyl-related deaths increased from 58 percent of all opioid-related deaths in 2018 to 89 percent of all opioid-related deaths in 2020. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.

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“We’ve seen the tragic and lethal impacts of fentanyl right here in our own community leading to 34 deaths already this year,” said Ryan. “I’m declaring this Public Health Emergency to make sure we have all hands on deck, working together, to combat this deadly drug. This is an issue that I take extremely seriously and we will continue to work with our many partners to continue to raise awareness and work to save lives.”

“Fentanyl’s reign of terror has expanded during the pandemic,” said District Attorney David Clegg. “The Ulster County District Attorney’s Office joins the county executive and the county sheriff in focusing on reducing the flow of fentanyl-laced narcotics into our community. Drug traffickers are peddling extremely dangerous and deadly drugs, and whenever possible will be held accountable not only for the illegal sale of drugs, but for the deaths they cause. We are also reemphasizing the use of drug court and other forms of diversion to provide treatment and rehabilitation for persons who come into the criminal justice system with addiction problems.”

To combat this crisis, Ulster County’s Healing Communities Study (HEAL) team will be partnering with the Ulster County’s Sheriff’s office to create a spike alert communications plan. This spike alert communications plan will give real-time updates to treatment providers when there is a spike of overdoses, fatal or nonfatal, in a 24-hour period. By communicating this risk, providers can be more aware that there could be a bad batch of fentanyl-laced drugs in circulation.

In addition to the spike alerts, the HEAL team will also be creating a public education campaign on the risks of fentanyl and the prevalence of this substance in the community. This campaign will include a social media campaign and radio PSA’s.