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Dutchess County Employs Numerous New Strategies to Combat Opioid Crisis
Homeless and Street Outreach, Expanded MAT Program at DC Jail and other efforts to reach those in need

Published: 10/19/2020

For More Information Contact:

Colleen Pillus, Communications Director

(845) 486-2000

Poughkeepsie, NY … Dutchess County continues to expand its aggressive efforts to combat the opioid crisis with new outreach and treatment initiatives as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, social isolation and bail reform make it more challenging than ever to reach individuals in need.

Breaking Through logoIn the second quarter of 2020, Dutchess County experienced 26 accidental overdose deaths, compared to 23 over the same span in 2019 – an increase of 11.5 percent, likely due to several factors unique to the past 10 months. There have been 49 total accidental overdose deaths year to date for 2020.  The increase in opioid overdose deaths is not exclusive to Dutchess County, as counties across New York State are experiencing similar increases.

Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a disease that thrives on social isolation, feelings of separation from one's community and trauma; and since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, most individuals have experienced these three risk factors at an increased proportion. Using drugs alone is extremely dangerous, and the social isolation associated with the pandemic may have contributed to the increase in this risky behavior. If an individual overdoses when they are alone, no one is present to call 911 or administer the life-saving medication Naloxone (Narcan), which can reverse the adverse effects of an overdose. The pandemic has also contributed to economic loss and homelessness, known causes of the mental health and substance use crisis.

Compounding the issue, statewide bail reform, which took effect on January 1st, has decreased the opportunity for those who live with substance use issues and come in contact with the criminal justice system to be connected with treatment and programming. Previously, many individuals who were remanded to the Dutchess County Jail were immediately connected with SUD help. However, it is now more challenging to connect with these individuals as they are released with an appearance ticket.  

County Executive Molinaro said, “These unprecedented times have only further complicated the opioid crisis, resulting in fewer residents taking advantage of the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral and Community Health’s successful, evidence-based treatment services, which have led thousands of residents on their road to recovery. Undaunted, the County has responded by engaging those with substance use issues with new, inventive services and programs to reach these residents and offer these proven life-saving methods.”

As the number of overdose deaths began to rise in the first quarter of 2020 with start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of statewide bail reform, Dutchess County Department of Behavioral and Community Health (DBCH) began additional outreach strategies in addition to its full slate of  24/7 crisis services – the longstanding and successful HELPLINE, Stabilization Center, Mobile Crisis Intervention Team, virtual and on-demand Narcan training – to reach those struggling with SUD during these challenging times.  Starting in the spring, the County’s Data-Driven Opioid Response Collaborative, funded through the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program (COAP) grant, began:

  • Reallocating the County’s recovery coaches to perform outreach at the homeless shelters and in known places of drug use in the community each day.   More recently, every Saturday evening as part of “Main Street Harm Reduction Street Outreach,” these coaches locate themselves in the City of Poughkeepsie to engage individuals at high risk for overdose. During these interactions, coaches build relationships with high-risk individuals and engage with them in a supportive way, sharing harm-reduction strategies, such as Fentanyl testing and Narcan distribution, to keep these individuals safe. The coaches also assist in arranging treatment for these individuals, if they are ready.
  • Collaborating with the County’s Department of Community and Family Services (DCFS) and Hudson River Housing to provide daily recovery and empowerment groups at the PODS at the DCJ, which now serve as overnight shelters for homeless individuals.
  • Providing Narcan training to the interested owners of businesses located on Main Street in the City of Poughkeepsie.

Recognizing that Individuals with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) are at heightened risk of overdose upon release from jail, Dutchess County has focused on providing services to these individuals while in its care at the Dutchess County Jail (DCJ) and upon their release.

Since 2019, individuals entering the DCJ who were participating in Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) program prior to entry have had their treatment maintained and been provided counseling through DBCH’s Jail-Based Service Unit. The County’s MAT program at the DCJ includes the use of methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone, all of which have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

This successful opioid treatment program has been recently expanded beyond just those who were already in a MAT program. All individuals entering the DCJ are screened for SUD, including OUD, and MAT therapy, in conjunction with appropriate group and one-on-one counseling, is offered to any individual diagnosed with an OUD and assessed as an appropriate candidate for treatment. Individuals receive counseling; specialized discharge planning, including assignment to an MAT Community Transition Coordinator; a Narcan kit, placed in their personal belongings, upon discharge; a referral to continue treatment in the community, both for MAT and clinical services; an offer of transportation to a community provider; and additional support needed for effective and safe re-entry into the community.

Dutchess County Sheriff Adrian “Butch” Anderson said, “The provision of Medication-Assisted Treatment in a jail setting is a new and burgeoning best practice, one that combats the opioid crisis head-on and will set even more individuals on their path to recovery. The Dutchess County Jail is proud to be among the leaders nationwide in this life-saving endeavor.”

DBCH is also working on other efforts, including  collaboration with the City of Poughkeepsie on a potential pilot program that would install locking Opioid Emergency Kit cabinets at various locations throughout the city, allowing those who happen upon an opioid overdose to quickly access a Narcan kit to be used to save the individual in distress.

City of Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison said, “The City is grateful for Dutchess County and the dedicated staff at the Department of Behavioral and Community Health for their dedication to ridding our streets of the affliction of opioid use and its all-too-often tragic results. We look forward to future partnerships with the County to battle this crisis and saves lives.”

Dutchess County and its contract agencies engage in these prevention, treatment, recovery, and support programs and additional 24/7 services to assist individuals living with mental health and/or substance use issues. In 2019, for example, HELPLINE staff responded to 42,764 telephone contact and text-message conversations, marking its busiest year on record. More information about these programs is available on the County’s 24/7 services webpage.