Data shows signs of positive change in Jefferson County in fight against opiates



Against the odds and statewide statistics, Jefferson County is seeing the first signs of positive change in the opioid crisis.

Stephen A. Jennings, chairman of Jefferson County’s Alliance for Better Communities, announced the “early signs of success” in an email to alliance members on Friday.

Data presented through the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services shows the county heading in the right direction, with numbers decreasing in five out of six indicator categories. Those categories are all opioid emergency department visits, all non-heroin opioid emergency department visits, heroin-specific emergency department visits, all opioid deaths and opioid pain reliever deaths.

The only indicator not ranked as improving was heroin deaths.

“However, (the) latest Jefferson County Medical Examiner’s Report, October 2017, indicates that the heroin deaths have declined as well,” the announcement reads. “(T)o date, the overdose death rate is at 17. While 17 deaths are certainly too many, the data demonstrates that multi-sector collaboration works, and investment in infrastructure to assist addicted individuals and their families is measurably improving the opioid situation.”

According to Mr. Jennings, Jefferson County had been on track to exceed more than 30 overdose deaths in 2017.

In 2005, Jefferson County saw three overdose deaths, but by 2011 the total had grown to 19. In 2016, 23 people died of confirmed drug overdoses.

“The projection (of overdose deaths) has come down, from 30 to now 24, maybe fewer,” Mr. Jennings said last week. “I believe that’s because of the Anchor Recovery Center. They are getting people into treatment ... they’re saving lives.”

The Anchor Recovery Center was opened by Pivot in April. Anchor hosts a wide range of support services for everyone affected by addiction, in any of its many forms, all entirely free. Services include recovery coaching and groups, connecting people with treatment, health and wellness classes, parenting classes, yoga and more.

“I can’t say for sure if we’re making a difference,” said Wanda Holtz, director of the center. “But I see differences (being made) in people.”

According to Ms. Holtz, in September alone 51 new people walked through the door looking to receive services. The center made 23 “engagements,” or individuals coming back for ongoing recovery coaching.

They received 407 total visitors, including their open house and events. Perhaps most impressive is the 977 hours of volunteer work put in by 24 people.

“Greater investments in our community like that are making a difference. There’s a need for that type of resource in other communities, too,” Mr. Jennings said.

When taken together, all indicators for New York state (excluding New York City) are worsening according to the report. Compared with most other counties, the direction Jefferson County seems to be heading in is something of an anomaly.

Ms. Holtz credits the many involved community members, volunteers and participants, with much of the difference she sees.

“(An individual in recovery) told me ‘I don’t know if I fit here.’ I said everyone fits here,” Ms. Holtz said.

She asked him what he liked and was good at — what he could contribute.

“The next day he came back with a whole plan (to start a fishing group),” she said. “He had it all figured out ... he’s teaching people to tie flies with household items ... get fishing licenses and arranging transportation. It’s not just fishing, it’s being a part of something. It’s a sober, peaceful activity.”

The center now hosts Anglers Anonymous meetings weekly, along with arts and crafts groups, reiki and more, and is open to all new community member ideas and additions.

Jen JacksonComment