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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Framing an Overdose Death

Another overdose death in Broome County. A very young man at the age of 22 did not wake up yesterday (2/6/16).
 
I am getting multiple versions of what happened with this young man. Some are saying he was at ACC and left because he couldn’t take the detox. Another said he just completed short term inpatient treatment at New Horizons and was waiting for a bed at Fairview. Another said he got kicked out of treatment for testing positive for suboxone (which he was apparently not prescribed). Another is saying it was her son’s roommate at Fairview and he overdosed there.

 
In the end, I can say, I’ve been at meeting after meeting where professionals and treatment providers call this ‘failing treatment’ or paint a picture that puts the blame on the person for being ‘unsuccessful’ in maintaining sobriety. They’ll say ‘he wasn’t serious about sobriety’. They will allow his death to be his fault and his fault alone.
 
I am going to say, this young man, like so many people in this country, clearly wanted to stop using heroin, but was not given the medical attention and treatments known to be effective, the length of time in treatment known to be effective, was not provided with the level of care, transfer of care or follow-up necessary and proven to be effective. Our system and the lack of proper medical treatment failed him and he died because of it.
 
For those who don’t know, detoxing from opioids or heroin is extremely painful to the bones and muscles in your body. I heard one person describe it as feeling as if every bone in their body was breaking. Add to that nerve pain, violent shaking, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, sweats, fear, agitation, severe cravings and severe anxiety.
 
There is a method for a person to be medically detoxed. A person can be given a tapering dose of suboxone to relieve their symptoms and make them more comfortable. Suboxone also curbs the intense cravings they have. In the US, it has been determined for some insane reason, this is not a medically necessary treatment. This is based on a determination that opioid withdrawal is ‘in most cases’ non-life threatening. Somehow the medical and insurance industries have been able to take this and run with it so that people addicted to opioids going through withdrawal are not granted the medicines known to be successful in easing their pain and making them more likely to be successful in both detox and treatment.
 
Our only local detox option, the ACC (through no fault of its own) is a facility that cannot offer medically assisted detoxification. They can only offer over the counter medications and take the person to the hospital if their symptoms are severe to be given some medications to relieve some of their symptoms. Note, they are not given what is known to best relieve the symptoms of opioid withdrawal and the symptoms can still be severe.
 
Many people (we are told 4 out of 10) leave the ACC because they cannot endure the withdrawals. Again – the withdrawals they are enduring could be alleviated GREATLY if given a tapered dose of suboxone.
 
Other facilities locally won’t offer medically assisted detox because insurance won’t pay for it and they hold to the idea that it’s ‘not life threatening’.
 
For those who are struggling to not use while in treatment will get ‘kicked out’ of treatment for ‘failing’ by most facilities rather than being providing more treatment or changing the type of treatment.

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Here’s another fucked up thing about opioid withdrawals – long term use of opioids actually reduces your pain tolerance… so the pain that person is feeling is literally worse than what a non-opioid user would experience. And, opioids damage the regions of your brain that control judgement and motivation. So, you’ve got a person in withdrawals in severe pain, anxiety and experiencing severe cravings… they are NOT being given the medication known to be most successful in reducing these symptoms, they have a damaged sense of judgement and motivation and yet we are expecting them to have some sort of super human power, strength or ‘desire’ to outweigh all of that and stay to ‘muscle through’ a non-medically assisted gruesome detox.
 
We also know that 90 days of inpatient treatment is proven to be effective. We know there is a 90% relapse rate after short term (less than 14 days) of inpatient treatment.
 
So rather than having people say this young man at the age of 22 went AMA, was ‘unsuccessful’, ‘didn’t want it bad enough’, ‘wasn’t strong enough’ or ‘gave up’, let’s all do his family and him the honor of being honest and frank about what happened.
 
Here’s what happened – our system did not offer a young man with a substance use disorder, which is a medical condition, the medical treatment necessary and known to be effective so that he could be successful in recovery that he needed to overcome a disease which often leads to death.
 
We need to stop blaming people seeking treatment for being ‘unsuccessful’ ESPECIALLY when we are not providing them the treatment and medical assistance that is clinically proven to help them be.
 
We need to change the conversation.
 
Let’s commit to saying – this person died of an overdose because he was not provided the medical attention or treatments proven to be successful.
 
We don’t require diabetics to give up sugar before we’ll give them insulin. We don’t require smokers to quit smoking before we treat their cancer. We don’t require people with clogged arteries to stop eating unhealthy food before we’ll clean out their veins or put in stents. And if we try a treatment for any of these and it’s unsuccessful, we don’t paint the patient as not being strong enough or not wanting to be well – we try a different type of treatment or a more intensive level of treatment. 


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Mapping Our Lost Loved Ones – a Note from Jeremiah Lindemann a Rainmaker in Colorado

JT_2016

If you are visiting this page you are probably well aware of the Opioid Crisis that is happening in our Country. It is effecting far too many families. It effected me too- I lost my little brother J.T. J.T. was the most charming person you would ever meet and could light up any room with laughter. He was my best man at my wedding and many people considered him their  best friend.  He became addicted to powerful painkiller called OxyContin. Before 2007 I had no idea what OxyContin was. After hearing many more stories similar to my brother’s on the news I decided to become involved.

In my daytime job I am a geographer that works for Esri- the leading mapping software company.  I wanted to apply those skills and technologies to help get the word out. There is a definite stigma about people who use drugs. This storymap “Celebrating Lost Loved Ones” shows a very small sample of people who have been lost to the epidemic. Their picture has a bio with details about what made them special.

The map is embedded here on TruthPharm:
http://truthpharm.org/remembering-loved-ones/

Here is the form to submit your loved one:

Memorial Submissions

The Lost Loved Ones map started roughly a year ago and now has over 150 contributions, really a tiny fraction of what is occurring.  However, it illustrates that this problem is happening everywhere, to really great people.  More mapping is being done around the epidemic as well and can be found in this gallery:

http://stoprxabuse.maps.arcgis.com/apps/PublicGallery/index.html?appid=74fb3b49c4b542b780326d10ed45bced

Gallery2

Some of the other maps are demographic maps that look at deaths by county, states that have Prescription Drop Off Locations, where Naloxone was used to save a life, and where over-prescribing is taking place that will likely lead to more problems.

Maps are a great communication tool – I hope you find them useful in helping get the word out about this epidemic to help drive more change.   Thank you TruthPharm for all that you are doing!

Jeremiah Lindemann

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