County Discusses Overdoses, Opioid Settlement Funds
MAYVILLE — Chautauqua County has received nearly $1 million from opioid settlement funding, with the majority of that being spent on a treatment program at the jail.
While more money is coming this way, officials hope to use some of it to not only provide treatment for addicts but help prevent people from being addicted to opioids in the first place.
During the most recent county Legislature’s Human Services Committee meeting, interim Public Health Director Dr. Michael Faulk, Mental Hygiene Grant Projects Director Steve Kilburn, and Commissioner of Social Services Carmelo Hernandez discussed the use of opioid settlement funds.
Faulk noted that the county so far has received $917,000 in funds from a national settlement with a number of pharmaceutical companies. Of that amount, $840,000 has been budgeted to fund the jail’s Medically Assisted Treatment program and $5,000 was used to bring former NBA player Chris Herren to a number of county schools last year to talk about addiction.
The county has $76,000 available and expects to receive another $1 million by the end of the year, along with annual payments of $250,000 for up to 10 years.
Faulk said from 2016-2019, the county averaged 36 deaths a year due to overdoses. In 2021, the county had 59 confirmed overdose deaths. In 2022, the county has so far confirmed 50 overdose deaths with another four that are currently under review but are believed to have been caused by drug overdoses.
The increase in deaths is blamed on fentanyl. According to Kilburn, fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18-45.
To deal with this issue, the Chautauqua Substance Abuse Response Partnership has been formed. It’s made up of local addiction service providers.
Its number one goal is reduce the numbers of overdose deaths. Included in that goal is raising awareness of services available in the county and how to access them.
“We’re learning more about what contributes to those overdoses and we’re going to continue to learn more about them with a new initiative – an overdose fatality review team – so that we don’t just have numbers or just mere demographics, but we’re going to try to learn the stories of those individuals who do die from overdose, to learn patterns and ways that we could have potentially introduced services that might have avoided some of these overdose deaths,” Kilburn explained.
Kilburn said they have distributed thousands of Narcan kits, which he believes have saved hundreds of lives. “Alstar is reporting that over a third of the cases where they most recently responded to an overdose report, the patient has already been administered Narcan by a bystander,” he said.
Along with preventing overdoses, Kilburn said a second emphasis of the substance abuse partnership is to get more people into treatment.
Not surprisingly, Kilburn said Dunkirk and Jamestown are the locations of the most overdoses. Because of this, they’re strategically reaching out in select areas for people who would benefit from treatment. “Most people with an addiction are not getting treatment,” he added.
The third emphasis is prevention. “We’re not going to arrest our way out of the overdose crisis and … we’re not going to treat our way out of it either. We’re going to get upstream if we’re going to see the future look different than the present,” Kilburn said.
Kilburn said they work with schools in particular, when it comes to prevention.
Kilburn estimates there are around 15,000 county residents who struggle with addiction. “If you do the math, most people know somebody – I’d say a 1 degree of separation away from somebody with an addition or somebody who knows somebody with an addition,” he said.
Hernandez said he believes reaching the youth is the key. He talked about creating a “youth club house” where young people could gather and address issues of peer pressure and education.
Faulk noted they in the process of getting their a mobile van unit out on the road, to communities that need assistance. He said they may do things like sell hot dogs or give away backpacks to attract people from the neighborhoods, where they can inform them of services available and even provide direct care.
The vehicle is expected to be up and running by next month.
MEDICALLY ASSISTED TREATMENT PROGRAM
According to Faulk, the Medically Assisted Treatment program is currently under budget, however some of that is because they haven’t been able to hire the necessary staff. He said they’re continuing to try to find individuals for those positions. If the money isn’t spent, it will be returned to the county’s opioid fund account.
When the Medically Assisted Treatment program began at the jail, it was mandated by the state. Faulk said he’s hoping that in the future they can either get money from the state or bill Medicaid or insurance companies for the treatment, so the program doesn’t take up all of their opioid settlement funds.
Kilburn cited a study that estimates that the opioid epidemic is costing Chautauqua County taxpayers $20 million annually, when you look at everything from health, criminal justice, and education. “Every step we make in reducing addiction actually saves the county money in the long run,” he said.
Legislature Chairman Pierre Chagnon said while it’s important for elected officials to know how the opioid settlement funds are being used, he would like a broader understanding of how county resources in total are being applied to the opioid crisis, as well as what opportunities there may be for greater support from the county. “That’s a difficult thing for me to say as a county legislator, because it kind of sounds like more money, but certainly this is so important to our community, that we should have a broad discussion about this, beyond just the opioid settlement funds,” he said.