Opioid overdose deaths are up in Dutchess County amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
There were 26 accidental overdose deaths in the second quarter of 2020, up from 20 during the same period in 2019, a 30% increase, according to numbers released by the county. Fentanyl-related deaths were up sharply.
The COVID-19 pandemic and New York’s bail reform contributed to the increase, Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro told the Hudson Valley Observer.
“In January, we were looking at glimmers of hope and progress,” he said.
But during the COVID-19 shutdown, people who were struggling with substance abuse relapsed, Molinaro said.
At the same time, New York’s bail reform means that people arrested on non-violent drug offenses are released with a ticket to appear in court at a later date.
“Previously, when an individual was arrested, they were less likely to end up in the county jail for any period of time and more likely to be in an electronic monitoring or drug treatment program,” he said. “Historically, they would have been treated by us early and not left to struggle on their own. That has caused unnecessary loss of life.”
The increase in deaths is troubling, said Dutchess County Legislator and Minority Leader Rebecca Edwards.
“Almost two deaths per week, spread from Poughkeepsie to Pleasant Valley and Beekman and all corners of the county, is a devastating crisis,” she said.
Last month, the county accepted 152 of 173 applications for early separation of county employees to save a projected $815,000 in 2020 and $10.9 million in 2021 amid a severe economic downturn from COVID-19.
“We are going to restrain spending, but I want to be clear, we are not reducing our resources or services related to substance abuse disorder and addiction,” Molinaro said.
“The Department of Behavioral and Community Health lost 15% of its staff and Family and Human Services 10%,” Edwards said. “This is very worrisome for how the county will address urgent needs going forward.”
Molinaro added that the county will have to be more innovative in delivering services, including using partner agencies to expand the reach.