Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan announced recently that his administration is committed to reducing the number of opioid fatalities in the county by 50 percent within two years. He said the county has received a CHASE [County Hub And Spoke Empowerment] grant of $2.5 million through Columbia University aimed at reducing the growing number of deaths and treating those struggling with addiction.
In a press release, Ryan’s office announced that, “these funds will be used over a three year period and will help deliver a comprehensive intervention package that will prevent the use of opioids, treat addiction and promote recovery.”
In addition, the New York State Department of Health will provide the county with $216,000 every year for the next next three years that will connect residents with the needed treatment services they need. This brings the total for this effort over the next three years to $3,148,000.
Ryan said it is important to acknowledge that Ulster County is in a public health crisis.
“We are now at the point, unfortunately, that we have to reckon with the truth that in 2018 Ulster County was the worst of 62 counties in New York State for opioid overdose deaths per capita. That is not something that we should be proud of, but it is something that we can and must use to rally ourselves and to turn this around and address it.”
County health records show that in 2018 there were 56 opioid fatalities across the county, but it appears that total is trending downward this year. Official totals for 2019 will be compiled early next year.
Ryan said cutting the total in half is an “aggressive” goal, “but it is something we can do and is clearly something that we must do; it also has to be a first step to ultimately getting to a place of completely eradicating this epidemic [in the county].”
Ryan recently appointed Vincent Martello to be the first Director of Opioid Prevention Strategy who will implement an action plan created by the Opioid Prevention Task Force. Ryan pointed out that the plan was compiled by more than 50 organizations and targets key areas; reducing supply and demand, improving treatment and providing needed recovery services.
Ryan promised to continue applying pressure through a class action lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and other pharmaceutical companies.
“We are now learning more and more about how sinister a role they’ve played in driving the supply,” he said.
On the demand side of the problem Ryan said they are looking at ways to connect with the younger generation in a peer to peer educational outreach program to help the county’s prevention counselors and medical professionals assist this vulnerable segment in society.
Ryan said getting this level of funding, “is really a big deal...I am extremely encouraged and optimistic that we now have a solution, have the right team and we have the funding and the resources to really address the problem.”
Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa said he is proud to be working with the County Executive and the District Attorney on this issue.
“People want action from their government, they want action from law enforcement, they want us to change the way we look at things. When an individual is afflicted with an addiction, somebody’s father, mother, son or uncle or other family member and we have to look at it that way.”
Sheriff Figueroa said the mindset on how society deals with this problem is changing, “because it has to change.” He said there are new programs and methods being made available to inmates at the County Jail to help those who may be addicted.
“We’re going to tackle this together,” he promised.
Ryan introduced Jillian Nadiak to speak on how this epidemic has personally impacted her family. She said her brother Adam suffered from PTSD and later died from an accidental overdose of painkillers prescribed for a back injury that he sustained while serving in the Middle East. He was just 30 years old.
Adam joined the Army in 2004 right out of High School, specializing in Communications, starting out by manning the border between North and South Korea for a year. He later served as a Sergeant in the Afghanistan War.
“He flourished in the Army and was Soldier of the Year for the 67th Signal Battalion in 2005,” she said. “He later worked as a contractor in Iraq before securing a position with Flight Safety International as an IT Security Disaster Recovery Analyst for LaGuardia Airport.”
Nadiak said, “if this could have happened to my brother, it could literally happen to anyone, and it does. It happens to mothers who get into car accidents, fathers with chronic pain from old injuries, sisters and brothers who’ve had their wisdom teeth removed, children who haven’t been educated that just because it is legal does not mean that it is not lethal...Not every person becomes addicted but every person runs that risk.”
Nadiak said it is heartening to know that Ulster County has not abandoned this issue, “and instead is attacking it head-on with vigor and passion. Today residents of Ulster County know that their county has their back but we all must continue to work together from the ground up, from defeating stigma in our communities to providing the funding to implement programs that will heal them.”