Officials seek to understand the state’s overdose crisis

By Jared Castañeda
Posted 5/14/24

Assemblyman Brian Maher and Crawford Supervisor Charles Carnes gathered several county and state officials on Thursday, May 9 in the Crawford Senior Center with three goals: to understand why …

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Officials seek to understand the state’s overdose crisis


Assemblyman Brian Maher and Crawford Supervisor Charles Carnes gathered several county and state officials on Thursday, May 9 in the Crawford Senior Center with three goals: to understand why overdoses have increased in New York, how they can prevent more from happening, and how they can educate residents on the matter.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid overdose deaths have increased in New York State by 351% between 2010 to 2021, with an 83% increase in naloxone usage during emergency service calls between 2015 and 2021. Compounding these deaths is xylazine, an extremely lethal drug; the state’s Drug Enforcement Administration division reported that 15% of all street drugs contain some form of xylazine, as tested by the Northeast Regional Laboratory.

In response to overdoses, the state government passed the Drug Take Back Act in 2018, making naloxone and drug treatment more easily accessible during overdose emergencies and recoveries. In 2019, however, the state passed a bail reform law that made it harder to keep drug dealers imprisoned, allowing them to potentially return to the streets and sell more drugs.

Maher asserted at May 9’s discussion that the state could strengthen its laws to crack down further on drug manufacturers and dealers especially the distribution of xylazine and fentanyl, and make rehabilitation more widely available. He also speculated that there are ways to increase drug prevention without relying on state legislation.

“There is a massive disconnect between us as legislators, creating legislation, and the communication with folks like the people in this room,” Maher said during his opening remarks. “When it comes to getting your feedback and being a part of this conversation, that’s what I really want to create here. A group of people that begin a conversation today that is the start of it, that will be constant.”

Besides Maher and Carnes, the members of the newly formed “Finding Hope” roundtable included the following:
- Daryn Bleach, peer recovery advocate of Hope Not Handcuffs
- Brian Dunn, Pine Bush CSD Superintendent
- Alayne Eisloeffel, program director of Tri-County Prevention Coalition
- David Hoovler, OC District Attorney

- Allison Horan, VP of staff and communications for Access Supports for Living
- Christine Krahulik, a judge of OC Family Court
- Tim Maendel, program director of Breaking the Cycle
- Jodi Nicoli, a member of the Walden Drug Overdose Awareness Memorial
- Ken Ronk, Shawangunk Supervisor
- Janell Santana-Sims, owner of Self-Care JS
- Robert Sassi, OC Legislator for District 4
- Brett Scudder, president of Scudder Intervention Services Foundation
- Kerri Stroka, Orange-Ulster BOCES deputy superintendent

The roundtable broke up into three groups, each tasked with a question to brainstorm answers for. Group one focused on ways to educate students and parents on drug use; its members suggested prevention coalitions, community events, peer-to-peer groups, and more involvement from law enforcement. Group 2 considered what lawmakers fail to see when creating drug legislation, and its members agreed that drug laws put the burden on the legal system, not the crime or criminal.

“I thought the breakout sessions made this roundtable discussion very unique and productive. At most of these roundtables, it’s tough to really dig into specific issues but during this discussion that is exactly what we did,” said Nicoli. “By discussing lingering issues, new issues that need to be addressed, and how to educate students and families better, we really tackled every aspect of this multi-faceted issue and utilized different people from different backgrounds to push the envelope in our discussions.”

Lastly, group 3 analyzed lingering issues that remain unaddressed, with its members pointing to a lack of regulation and education, scarce drug resources in some communities, and high expenses for overdose recovery.

“Tri-County Prevention Coalition is honored to be part of this important discussion about the opioid and fentanyl crisis. As a drug-free community coalition, we believe collaboration is key to combatting this crisis,” said Eisloffel. “We look forward to continuing the conversation to effect real, long-lasting change in our communities.”

In his closing statements, Maher assured this group would continue meeting and discussing these issues, whether in person or through email. He hopes to continue receiving feedback on current drug legislation and ensure that new legislation addresses the roots of drug distribution while also helping victims of overdose and substance abuse.

“This will not be the last time we all meet. These folks that are here will now be BCC’d on emails and any legislation that comes up for debate,” Maher said. “And to help educate me as their legislator to make sure that we’re advocating, debating, and making sure that any piece of legislation that is up for debate and passed is done so thoughtfully and in a way that won’t harm more folks.”