Layering an isolating, job-choking pandemic on top of an existing opioid problem is having predictably ruinous results. In a briefing from New Paltz’s opioid prevention response team, town council members learned about those grim statistics, as well as efforts to turn back that tide. As recently as 2019, overdoses appeared to be leveling off at about 300 per year, with the number resulting in death in decline. 2020 brought a sharp upswing: nearly 500 overdoses, among them 66 fatalities, which was double the deaths from the year before. There have already been more than 70 overdoses countywide this year, with the user dying in 19 cases. Community education coordinator Phoenix Kawamoto said that in slightly more than half of those cases, fentanyl was the fatal dose. The southern portion of the county — New Paltz, Rosendale, Marbletown, Esopus, Lloyd, Marlborough, Plattekill, Gardiner, and Shawangunk — has as many overdoses as Kingston. The northern and western portions have lower incidents of overdose.
Jaclyn Cirello, who coordinates broad prevention efforts on campus, spoke about the importance of training people in the use of naloxone to arrest overdoses, as well as the value of getting unused medications out of the home before they are used inappropriately by someone else. Drop-offs at collection boxes on campus and in the lobby of the town police station — where it can be accessed without speaking to an officer — have led to 3,500 pounds of prescription drugs and their containers being incinerated. It’s also now possible to drop off old medications at Dedrick’s, and there will be a pop-up disposal site at Hasbrouck Park the day of New Paltz Clean Sweep. There are now also kits available for disposal at home; one puts the medications and water into the provided bag and then tosses into the solid-waste stream. Medications should never be flushed, because they are not removed along with sewage and remain in the water. Experts believe burning or burying have a lesser environmental impact than flushing.
Pre-pandemic, training in the use of narcan — the brand name for naloxone — were being held six to eight times a year. All of that training has been shifted online, with live sessions held monthly and recorded trainings available at the web site opioidpreventionnp.org/, which is also where one can order drug disposal kits. After completing the training, naloxone kits are distributed the same way that the disposal kits are: by arranging a pickup, scheduling a delivery, or in some cases even through the mail.