Our June 25, 2017 Letter to Broome County Executive Jason Garnar

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

Jason Garnar
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.

  1. County Departments that responsibly track and publicize data in a timely manner including:
  • Naloxone uses by all departments and the number of doses required
  • Overdose deaths
  • Deaths by other causes, but linked to substance use
  • Criminal acts related to substance use disorders
  • Incarceration rates related to substance use disorders
  • Success rates of various forms of treatment
  • A public calendar of all events offered by providers, support groups and grassroots organizations
  • A comprehensive list of treatment options, modalities and services within our region, allowing individual organizations to add their information and website links

Sincerely,

Alexis Pleus
Founder and Executive Director

cc: Governor Andrew Cuomo, NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, NYS Commissioner of Health Howard Zucker

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Thank you to Governor Cuomo’s Office and OASAS – Attention to the Bed Availability Dashboard

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”.

Screenshot 2016-02-21 09.20.59In 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:

  1. A mileage indicator from your zip code to the facilities found.
  2. The ability to search by facility or bed type.
  3. A glossary of bed or facility types.
  4. The ability to click and send a report to OASAS and the Governor’s Office if no bed is found within 50 miles of your home zip code and it should provide you with a receipt or email confirmation of your report submission.

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.

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