HUDSON–The Columbia County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to accept an Opioid Epidemic Response Plan at the full board meeting Wednesday, April 12. At the same meeting the board also authorized the Probation Department to allow trained probation officers to administer “lifesaving intranasal naloxone if they encounter an individual who appears to be suffering from an opioid overdose” and the supervisors approved hiring a “part-time legislative aide to act as a liaison for the opioid Epidemic plan.”
The position has an annual salary of $10,000.
The Opioid Epidemic Response Plan is the result of several month’s work by a committee convened by Supervisor Matt Murell (R-Stockport), chairman of the Board of Supervisors, to address the local impact of the nationwide opioid abuse crisis. Its first mission was to “clarify… the nature and extent of opioid abuse in Columbia County,” to identify to identify available “resources” to address the problem. The committee made recommended that Columbia County:
• Create an Opioid Epidemic Response Subcommittee of the County’s Human Services Committee
• Establish a detox facility, “increase capacity for residential treatment services” and “expand the scope and services of the Mobile Crisis Assessment Team”
• Employ a coordinator.
“Development of the plan… is the first step in a long process,” Mr. Murell said in an April 12 press release from the board. “The county intends to follow through on this plan until each and every one who has fallen victim to this crisis has been provided with the help they need.”
Earlier this year Mr. Murell selected Keith Stack for the post of legislative aide. Mr. Stack is CEO of the Addictions Care Center of Albany and was supervisor of the Town of Kinderhook from 1990 to 1995. “Columbia County is in pretty good position” compared to other counties, Mr. Stack told the Human Services Committee last month. “At least you’re already doing something.”
He praised local services when he spoke to a subcommittee March 2, but added, “when people face the crisis, they wonder: Where do I go? What do I do? Families feel powerless.”
Supervisor William Hughes (D-Hudson, 4th Ward) noted the shame many people feel when opioid abuse hits their family. He recalled an “upper middle class” parent of an opioid-abusing 19-year-old asking him, “Where do I go for help for me?”
“I’ve talked to a lot of people in the community,” Mr. Hughes added. “We need a centralized coordinator, so people will know what services are available.”
“It’s a four-legged stool: Education, Treatment, Recovery, Enforcement. If you take away one, the others will suffer,” Mr. Hughes said last month.
“Go after it with everything we have,” said Michael Cole, county director of Community Services. Opioid abuse “touches everybody. We need family support. We have many things that are in place already, but coordinating them is critical.”
Mr. Stack contrasted the current opioid crisis with that of the 1970s. Then, he said, the problem was mainly “urban and low income. Now it’s everybody.”
“New York estimates that 80% of the opiate abusers are white, young, suburban,” Mr. Cole said.
“So much is happening innocently,” Mr. Stack said, citing children treated with opioids for pain.
“We created this problem,” said Mr. Cole. “People who break an arm used to get an opiate pill prescription for 5 days. Now they get it for two months…. And it’s not unique to Columbia County.”
“Have primary care physicians and psychiatric physicians stopped prescribing opioid medicine so frequently?” asked Supervisor Richard Keaveney (R-Canaan).
“They’re still prescribing it, but they know it’s now under attention,” Mr. Cole said.
Mr. Keaveney suggested health insurance companies stop covering excessive opioid prescriptions, “to turn off the faucet.”
Mr. Cole asked if the problem was too much prescribed drugs or “street drugs.”
Several people answered, “Both.”
Mr. Stack said that the current crisis largely started with prescribed drugs, but “when they can’t get enough opioids through prescriptions, they get heroin on the street.”
Supervisor Richard Scalera (D-Hudson, 5th Ward) said that people who take heavy daily doses of opioid drugs to manage true chronic pain “don’t consider themselves addicts. But how do you draw the line between those whose pain is genuine and those who are good actors?”
Mr. Cole suggested that pain relief with alternates to opioids might be more effective.
“Opiate addiction is one of several addictions,” Mr. Cole noted. “Alcohol addiction kills slowly; opiate addiction kills fast.”
Mr. Stack had recommended previously that parents learn how to administer Narcan, a brand name for a drug that can halt a drug overdose. “You can’t harm people by giving them Narcan, even if they really have not taken opioids,” he said.
Before the April 12 board meeting Joseph Filippone, program director of Project Safe Point, showed the supervisors how to administer Narcan. If the Narcan appears not to have started a person breathing again and, “If you know how to do CPR, do it!” he advised.
Mr. Hughes has said that he came to Mr. Murell about the problem after hearing a judge talk about it at a block party. “I was shocked to learn there’s so much in the area,” Mr. Hughes said.