After heroin deaths, Broome officials building overdose database
We are tired of waiting for the county to take action. It is long past time for them to be responsible in their roles to protect the public. See our letter to County Executive Jason Garnar below. Be sure to click the news links to see what he thought should be done PRIOR to being elected.
We have been calling on the county to track and report overdose deaths and reversals since August of 2015. Here we are, nearly two years later, still waiting.
Call County Executive Garnar today and ask him when he’ll start doing all the things he was demanding of the last administration.
June 25, 2017
Broome County Executive
60 Hawley Street
Binghamton, NY 13901
Dear County Executive Jason Garnar,
On June 24, 2017 the Village of Johnson City Police issued a warning about a surge in heroin overdoses, including three fatalities. We thanked them for their proactive approach in alerting their community. Due to their proactive approach, Truth Pharm and STAP worked together to immediately respond by advertising, promoting and handing out life-saving Naloxone kits during a three-hour time-slot on Sunday. Twenty-four people were trained and obtained kits.
This is what the response to a public health emergency looks like.
Also, due to their proactive approach, the news media published stories about the overdoses and the handing out of Naloxone kits, which caused hundreds of people in Broome County to engage in conversations about the opioid epidemic. In addition, hundreds of people were educated about: the dangers of using alone; the need to call 911; a particularly strong or ‘bad’ batch of heroin that was circulating; harm reduction practices they could use to reduce overdoses; and the lifesaving medication Naloxone. Conversations that our community desperately needs. In addition, two people reached out to Truth Pharm and will be placed into inpatient treatment tomorrow.
On February 23, 2017 you attended our in-depth presentation to local elected officials outlining the dire need for both care and harm reduction approaches in Broome County. We also made it clear that tracking of overdose data – both deaths and successful revivals – is the responsibility of our county government and needs to be done accurately, consistently and actively reported to the public.
We have seen zero progress on this front. We have been making requests for this information since August of 2015, we are approaching two years since then, over one hundred deaths and thousands of overdoses with no change to the system.
Prior to being elected as County Executive, you agreed that the community should be notified. We have communications from you to us directly stating so and ridiculing the prior administration for not being responsible in doing so. And you made your opinion public to the media. On August 12, 2016, WICZ started a report about overdoses with this line: “Broome County Executive Candidate Jason Garnar called for a public health warning on heroin overdoses Thursday night.” And later in the article included this as well, “Jason Garnar says it is a health risk when the public isn’t notified.” Garnar Calls for Public Health Warning Garnar Wants Better Accounting by the County
On August 11, 2016, in an article published by the Press & Sun Bulletin: “First and foremost, Broome County needs to declare a public health emergency,” said Garnar, the Democrat challenging Preston in the November election. But “what I’m more concerned about is it seems our county executive is not saying anything about this. We should be doing everything possible to get the word out there that something is out there that is killing people left and right.” The website for that article includes a video of you stating how important it is for the County Executive to release CURRENT information to the public in order to save lives. Garnar calls on Broome to Declare Opioid Emergency
It is nearly one year since you made those strong statements and you’ve been in office for six months. But, where is your action? Why aren’t you releasing notices to the public? You are now the one responsible to ensure the public is notified.
As we have in the past, we could provide multiple examples of other counties in New York State who are actively tracking and releasing overdose data, but we trust you can google and immediately find plenty of results just as easily as we can.
We also know this data already exists for the county. We recently learned that the county is planning to participate in a program to release all overdose data (deaths and reversals) to a mapping program run by the DEA. That mapped data will not be accessible by the public, but is utilized in drug investigations. We are beyond sickened to learn that the county is choosing to participate in an enforcement and further criminalization program as their priority over participating in issuing public health warnings and participating in harm reduction practices with data you ALREADY HAVE.
Your goal must be to save lives.
We are again requesting that the County Health Department immediately begin to take responsibility for counting the deaths of our loved ones due to substance use related causes and issuing that information to the public. This responsibility does not belong to the District Attorney, this is a health issue and belongs to our county health department.
We also want to remind you that funding from the state and federal government depends on accurately reporting both overdose and death data to state officials. We are being bypassed for funding, new programs and attention because our issues are not accurately reported.
Though it seems much of what was written in our letter of February 23, 2017, including working together cooperatively, has been ignored, we’ll attach the letter as a reminder of what we called for four months ago, please be sure to review request #3 which we’ll include below. The optimism we expressed in our letter is waning, but we as an organization continue to do the work necessary to save lives. You, as the County Executive, declared this opioid crisis a Public Health Emergency. With that declaration comes serious responsibility on your part.
Founder and Executive Director
cc: Governor Andrew Cuomo, NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, NYS Commissioner of Health Howard Zucker
So, “what,” you ask “does a Rainmaker do?”
What does Truth Pharm do?
Well, Rainmakers are change-makers, game-changers, powerhouses, people who refuse to accept no for an answer. They are optimistic, driven and produce results. Despite current negative conditions, they work to overcome. When a challenging problem exists with no apparent or clear solution – a Rainmaker will find and create solutions! They will take action.
That’s a Rainmaker – and that is what Truth Pharm is made up of. People who will create change and WILL have an impact on this epidemic.
Per our mission: Truth Pharm works to raise awareness, reduce the stigma, educate the public and advocate for policy and law changes surrounding substance use and treatment.
And here is a summary of how we went about creating change in 2016!
Awareness and Outreach Events:
Community Response Action Plans:
Police & Criminal Justice Outreach:
Obtaining Treatment, System Navigation, Family Awareness and Education:
Grants & Fundraising:
*2016 was the first year of our 501c3. Since we did not have nonprofit status in 2015, no fundraisers were hosted, no donations were accepted or EVER collected. ALL efforts in 2015 were financially supported and provided by Founder and Director Alexis Pleus.
I wonder if you’ll bear with me to hear a personal story.
Last fall, I attended the FedUp Rally, Facing Addiction and Hill Day which were all back to back in D.C. All incredibly powerful events where I learned so much and was inspired by speaker after speaker.
But, believe it or not, the most inspiring 3 hours of the entire 5 days I was in Washington D.C. was spent in a room with 20 people pulled together by Nancy Carter Williams. Who were they? They were people hand selected by Nancy that she felt have accomplished incredible feats, have developed unique ways to raise awareness and were having a powerful impact on the opioid epidemic and BOY was she right! I was invited to speak and present for Truth Pharm and by the time it was my turn to speak, I felt minuscule in comparison to what I had heard from the people who went before me.
Two of the most inspiring people we heard from that day were two women from Kentucky. They told of a story about several bills being up for vote in Kentucky that everyone was sure would pass. They said they did the thing we all do – the shared the information on facebook, they made phone calls, sent emails and it seemed these bills would pass, after all, the state was facing an epidemic and these bills were SO important. When it came time for the bills to be voted on, they did not pass and the group was devastated. A group of moms decided the next session of the legislature, they would be at the capitol every day the legislature was in session and they would NOT leave until the bills passed. And they did just that.
I know many of us have different opinions about what can or should be done. There is a LOT Truth Pharm wants from our state government, but one thing I THINK we would all agree on is that currently, insurers are controlling how much treatment our loved ones get, and the amount of time is woefully low. We are seeing an average of 9 days being approved by insurance, which sets our loved ones up for a 90% relapse rate.
There is a bill in our State Senate AND Assembly this year that we have been calling “The 90 Day Bill”. Remarkably, the bill that was written in the Senate, was written by a Republican and our Senate is Republican led and the bill written in the Assembly was written by a Democrat and our Assembly is Democrat led.
This means, two things. 1. a shorter span of time to move the bill forward and 2. the bill has a fantastic chance of passing.
But, it will NOT pass this session unless we can get the bill to move forward. And to get it to move forward, we need face to face time with our political leaders asking them to please sign on as cosponsors and to urge their colleagues to move the bill forward.
Truth Pharm has taken 4 trips to Albany and we have several more dates coming up: May 10, 11, 24 and June 2 and 24th and we may add more days. You could go with us, meet us there, plan your own trip, go separately, whatever you like, but we should all work together to make this happen. We can only do this with everyone’s help.
People were telling us yesterday we had a good chance of getting this passed ‘next session’… let’s make it happen THIS SESSION!
If you’d like to be involved, please fill out this survey: Click Here for Survey.
To see Truth Pharm’s Advocacy Agenda for 2016, click here.
Penny emailed me and said, I met this guy, he’s the real deal. His name is Chris Arnade, he writes for The Guardian and he wants to know what’s happening in our area.
I was having a particularly rough and down week emotionally. I know the scale of The Guardian and I was familiar of Chris’ work, but I wondered if I could muster the energy to leave the house for yet one more meeting that week. He contacted me before I had a chance to reach out to him and asked about getting together to talk over the weekend. We decided to meet for coffee on a Saturday morning.
I did my typical, got up and had coffee at home. Got on the computer and got lost. Before I knew it, it was past time to go see him and I hadn’t even showered. I threw on a headband and clothes, half washed my face, put on some moisturizer and deodorant and raced to Binghamton. On my way there, I attempted to text him to let him know I was running late and realized I failed to pay my cell phone bill and my phone was shut off. I almost turned around and went home.
Here I was, leaving the house when I didn’t want to, a phone not working because I didn’t pay the bill, unshowered – all evidence of the depression I had sunk into heading to meet a nationally known writer to talk about a topic that I am passionate about and yet, adds to my sadness.
I hoped as I always do, that we would be talking about Truth Pharm. Talking about the problem at large. Talking about the thousands lost, the millions struggling.
I got there and found him quickly. I was beyond ‘fashionably late’ and he was immediately forgiving. He appeared to be as far behind in showering as I was and I settled down.
He immediately started his interview – all about my personal life. Right from the beginning of my life and I felt uneasy. Why about me? I even asked him. I have so little to do with this. But, he was so genuine, I got the impression that he is like me, he simply loves to know every element of a person – and their entire life’s story. So, there I sat, telling him my story from the time of being a child to the point of losing my own child. He took a few notes. He picked up on my depression and asked about it. He loved that I was an engineer said I should get back to building bridges. A couple hours later, he said he was going for a walk and I was heading home. All the way home, I wished I had stayed. There was just something about him. I could have hung out with him for days, I’m certain.
As I waited the weeks following for his story to come out, I became increasingly anxious. We talked about so much over the course of those two hours, I wondered in the end, what the story would be about. We stayed in contact via twitter and when the story came out, he asked, “Was I fair?” Yes, Chris, you were fair. Thank you.
Read Penny’s and my story here in Chris’ article.
I am honored to be in a story alongside Penny Stringfield and honored our boys, Jeff Dugon and Johny Stringfield share their stories on a page.
Photos by Chris Arnade.
Alexis Pleus of Truth Pharm provides oral testimony at New York State Heroin Task Force in Penn Yan, NY
We are visiting Albany to advocate for policy change on May 3rd, May 10th and May 11th.
It is very important that our political leaders hear from us and the struggles we face with finding treatment and having it be affordable and/or approved by our insurance.
Here is our agenda for advocacy for 2016:
Advocacy Agenda for 2016
New York State is not immune to the opioid and heroin epidemic plaguing our country which has progressed now to a crisis. While we have been ahead of the curve on implementation of some important issues such as the Good Samaritan Law and Naloxone access, we remain behind in health parity and treatment access.
As an advocacy organization, we are reminded daily of the many obstacles people seeking help encounter. Here is the typical sequence of events experienced by an individual who has said “I want help”:
Though we believe a multi-faceted approach will ultimately be necessary to conquer this epidemic, nothing is more important than saving those who are desperate for help now. We need our state government to take emergency measures to address those suffering and asking for help now.
Thank you for your time and also offer our help. If you need someone to speak at a hearing, provide testimony or advocate to your colleagues, please call on us. We will help.
We need the following emergency measures:
These bills would offer a high impact with low cost to New York and are non-controversial:
The following bills will have a significant impact on the epidemic:
|S6478A/ A9211||Requires insurance companies to provide at least ninety days of rehabilitation services to an insured upon a doctor’s prescription||Senator Ritchie/ Assemblyman Stirpe|
|S651||Relates to continuing medical education requirements for doctors, nurses and pharmacists; requires three hours of training on the prevention, treatment and mitigation of opiate analgesics and psychotropic drug addiction.||Senator Kennedy|
|S647||Requires the department to draft guidelines for the transition of patients from substances with a high risk of addiction to those with a low risk.||Senator Kennedy|
|S660||Requires disclosure of addiction risks for certain prescription drugs; requires physicians, nurses and pharmacists to provide information on prevention, mitigation and treatment of prescription drug addiction and to have the patient sign a form acknowledging education of such risks.||Senator Kennedy|
On January 31, 2016, Governor Cuomo announced a new tool to help with the search for an addiction treatment bed in New York State. Governor Cuomo Unveils New Tool to Guide New Yorkers to Addiction Treatment. The database was to provide up to date information about treatment beds available across New York state which would be updated ‘live’. In fact, according to the Governor’s press release it would be updated 24/7. This would save other treatment facilities, people seeking treatment and families the frustration of calling many facilities just to find their beds are full.
When we first reviewed the tool we were pleased that at least it DOES show what a lack of treatment availability there is in New York. Albeit sad, we are hoping that our elected officials would search this and see how little help is out there, no matter what your situation. If you’re a parent searching for your son or daughter, of course you will go to the ends of the earth, but what about those searching for help who cannot get a ride to a facility 5 hours away?
We were also a bit dismayed by the lack of the ability to search by bed or facility type along with no glossary for those who do not understand what the difference is between the treatment types listed such as “Intensive Residential” versus “Inpatient Rehab” or “Medically Monitored Withdrawal” versus “Med Sup Withdrawal”.
In reality, this is a great tool they’ve provided and we believe with some work, it can help people as they search for treatment, but as it stands today, it is not helpful to the person who is desperate for help or the parent who has just learned their child is addicted to opiates and is not privy to the jargon terms of the industry.
We want four items added:
We must have a way to continually remind them of how difficult help is to find.
By February 9th, we found there were two serious issues even attempting to use the tool as it was 1. Many facilities were not updating their information. 2. Some would list several beds, yet if you called them, they would tell you there was a multi-week waiting period.
Truth Pharm searched for someone to talk to about this issue and after multiple phone calls, found that no one knew who we should contact to discuss the issues, so we contacted the Governor’s office. Our note to the Governor
We are actually impressed! They forwarded our email to OASAS and asked them to address the issue. A contact has now been added to the bottom of the website and we were forwarded several contacts we can make if the dashboard is not being updated or does not reflect accurate data. Letter from OASAS
My favorite line from their email: “As an additional incentive, delinquent/lazy providers have been warned that failure to comply with this daily requirement may result in daily financial penalties.”
Truth Pharm says BRAVO to OASAS on that one!!!
Please keep us posted on this tool – if it works for you, if it doesn’t, if you notice that certain providers are not updating their listing.
This is the link to the tool: Bed Availability Dashboard
We want to thank Governor Cuomo and OASAS for their excellent attention to this matter.
We also want to take this opportunity to remind them, real progress will happen when the Governor promises and provides treatment for all within 50 miles of your zip code. If there is not facility, you should be allowed to go to and be admitted in the nearest hospital, no questions asked. This is what we are fighting for. This is a medical condition proven to be deadly if untreated. If someone wants treatment, they should get that treatment on demand.