St. Lawrence County’s first opioid task force meeting draws nearly 40 stakeholders
By JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week
Nearly 40 people attended the first meeting of St. Lawrence County’s opioid task force, according to St. Lawrence County Public Health Director Dana Olzenak-McGuire.
The task force hopes to better track and combat the area’s opioid and heroin epidemic.She said the meeting drew law enforcement officers, pharmacists, health care providers, college professors, drug-free coalition members, social services officials, jail officials, emergency services officials, school superintendents, coroners and representatives from a wide variety of non-profit organizations.
The group will help decide how best to use a grant of $75,000 from the state to combat the county’s opioid problem.
Olzenak-McGuire said she was encouraged by the turnout and interest from stakeholders. The first meeting consisted of many introductions, but also descriptions of what resources the different attendees offer.
One topic for discussion was an educational documentary called Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict. Tracking incidents and educating the public are both goals of the task force. Olzenak-McGuire is hoping to bring education on the issue to schools, workplaces and communities. The film is one of the tools being considered.
St. Lawrence County’s population of 111,000 people need not look far to see the impact the epidemic is having.
At least nine people died from opioid and heroin overdoses in St. Lawrence County in 2017, which was down from 14 deaths reported in 2016, according to a quarterly report from the state Department of Health, but police continue to make drug related arrests on a near-daily basis, and distribution of Narcan, which counteracts the effects of an overdose, has become commonplace.
Narcan training was also discussed at the meeting.
Olzenak-McGuire’s plan includes collecting data and interviewing various stakeholders to determine challenges and barriers to curbing the problem.
As part of the countywide assessment, she said she hopes to improve the surveillance of opioid and heroin use to obtain accurate figures related to deaths and incidents.
Implementation of ODMAP, Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program, that identifies where arrests and overdoses are occurring in collaboration with law enforcement and emergency services, is one way to accomplish this. The ODMAP is expected to be one of the topics at the next meeting, which is planned for Jan. 18 at the county building at 80 State Highway 310 in Canton.
Additional information she hopes to obtain includes the number of opioid prescriptions being issued, and the number of emergency room visits and 911 calls related to the drugs. She also wants to compile a complete list of resources that those suffering from addiction can access.
She would like to see the assessment completed as early as June, but says it could take longer.
Once the data is collected Olzenak-McGuire wants to make the information available online. The goal is to get a real idea of the severity of the problem and target education and treatment assistance to the places that are in most need of help.
Typically, this sort of data can be used to secure funding to expand resources.
Olzenak-McGuire also wants to educate the public and cut through the stigma associated with addiction. She would like to see information provided at schools, public events and places of employment so people can become aware of the problems created by opioid and heroin and learn where to get help.
While heroin and opioid abuse have become a major health concern across the nation and state, St. Lawrence County is among the harder-hit places.