WATERLOO — There have been four opioid or heroin deaths in Seneca County in the last 11 days alone.
That sobering fact was part of an update report given by the county Board of Supervisors Mental Health Services Committee Tuesday.
Margaret Morse, the community services director, put that in context by telling the supervisors that there were six reported overdose deaths in 2013 and 2014 combined, followed by four deaths in 2015 and one last year.
And Morse added this: “Unfortunately, accurate reporting data is not always available. We suspect the numbers are higher.”
Those who died from the opioid overdoses were not being treated by the county’s addictions treatment clinic, she noted.
Morse said the number of hospitalizations of county residents due to opioid overdose in 2016 was 17. The state average, excluding New York City, is just over 16, and Morse said they expect similar, if not higher, numbers for 2017. The number of county residents making outpatient emergency department visits in 2016 due to opioid overdose is also greater than the average rate for the state, minus New York City.
In 2015, 35 percent of all clients admitted to the county’s addictions clinic were admitted with an opioid use disorder, with 6 percent receiving medication-assisted therapy.
In 2016, that grew to 58 percent of all clients admitted with an opioid use disorder and 16 percent receiving medication-assisted therapy.
Thus far in 2017, 51.2 percent of all clients were admitted with opioid use disorders, with 16 percent receiving medication-assisted therapy.
“No one is immune,” Morse said. “Addiction to opioids and heroin crosses all racial, ethnic and socio-economic lines. Pain appears to be one common denominator, both emotional and or physical.”
Opioids are frequently prescribed by physicians for pain management, and Morse said some unique factors that may contribute to Seneca County’s opioid problem with chronic pain are:
• Very high disability rates — 30.8 percent, compared to 24.2 percent for the entire Finger Lakes area and 19.9 percent statewide.
• Very high obesity rates — 44.1 percent, compared to 35.8 percent in the Finger Lakes and 35.4 percent statewide.
• High rate of self-reported poor mental health. Morse said the county rate is 13.6 percent, compared to 12.3 percent for the Finger Lakes and 11.3 percent statewide.
• In 2014, Medicaid claims data indicated Seneca County has one of the highest rates of diagnosis for lower back pain in the Finger Lakes region.
Board members asked Morse how the county is addressing the issue.
She said the clinic is treating the whole person, with a focus on overall health. They are contracting for nursing hours to coordinate client healthcare and collaborating with the county public health department, which has a chronic diseases self-management program for obesity, diabetes and chronic pain.
She said the county also is increasing access to treatment with open access clinic hours three hours per day and is looking into Saturday clinic hours.
Also, they are providing clinical treatment in local schools and other community settings, increasing access to medicine-assisted treatment with increased physician hours and capacity and focusing on personal and family-centered treatment approaches.
Morse said all public health nurses have been trained to screen for substance abuse and make referrals, as needed. There also is training for law enforcement officers, first responders, probation officers and community members on Narcan administration, a drug to counter an overdose of opioids through the nasal passages.
Inmates in the county correctional facility are given training on Narcan use and receive inter-nasal kits upon their release, if appropriate.
“We are currently providing evidence-based prevention education and counseling services in schools in Waterloo, Seneca Falls, South Seneca and Romulus. We also work with families and children to develop skills and enhance factors that prevent substance abuse,” Morse said.