ALBANY — Called an “epidemic within a pandemic,” last year there were 99 drug overdose deaths in Albany County, a record number, and a 60 percent increase from the 62 deaths in 2019.
And it’s not just Albany County. According to the federal Center for Disease Control, there were more than 81,000 drug overdoses in the U.S. from May 2019 to May 2020, the highest ever one-year total.
“It touches all of our lives, all of our families all of our places of employment we all know someone whose life has been touched by this,” said Dr. Stephen Giordano, head of the Albany County Department of Mental Health. “What we are seeing in Albany county is reflecting the counties that surround us, the state and the nation.”
Earlier this month, a spike in overdose deaths prompted officials in Washington and Schenectady counties to issue warnings about a dangerous batch of fentanyl on the streets. Contiguous counties, like Albany County, followed with similar warnings.
Toxicology reports have found fentanyl — a synthetic opioid often illegally produced that is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and often mixed with heroin and cocaine — in the bodies of 85 percent of those who died both nationally and in Albany County, Giordano said.
In Albany County, the majority of deaths are males in their 30s, but the youngest was 20 and the oldest is 59. Eighty-six percent were Albany County residents.
“The health crisis over the last 11 months has taken its toll, when we were shut down for five months, and you don’t see the ripple effect on the other end meaning domestic violence, sexual assault, drug overdoses, suicides,” County Executive Dan McCoy said. “These are things nobody wants to talk about but have ramifications.”
The COVID-19 pandemic likely plays a role in the most recent spike, Giordano said, but fentanyl related deaths has been on the radar since 2012 with a 68 percent increase over the last five years.
According to the CDC, there have been 450,000 deaths involving opioids from 1999 to 2019. The deaths came in three waves with the first being an increased number of prescriptions in the 1990s. The second began in about 2010 when deaths from heroin overdoses spiked and the third, current wave began about seven years ago with increases in deaths involving synthetic opioids, and in particular illicitly manufactured fentanyl found in heroin, pills and cocaine.
Giordano said there are currently 2,748 people in Albany County who are receiving addiction treatment.
It is a large number, it is a scary number but it is a remarkable number. I think it is a hopeful number,” Giordano said.
Of those, there are 1,556 being treated for opioid addiction with nearly 90 percent receiving “state-of-the-art” evidence-based medications” otherwise known as medication assisted treatment.
“It is important to say 1556 people did not die today,” he said. “Treatment is available in this community, treatment works. Peer support works and recovery is possible.”
For help with addiction or other mental health issues call the Mental Health Support Line at 518-269-6634 seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Capital Region Open Access Engagement Program at 1-866-930-4999 or the state Office of Addiction Services and Support at 1-877-846-7369 or by texting HOPENY (467369.)