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Team Approach to Opioid Epidemic Resulted in 9 Convictions in OD Deaths

Patti Singer

Red indicates fatal overdoses and blue indicates nonfatal overdoses in the past two years in Monroe County. Provided by Monroe County Heroin Task Force.

Opioid deaths and overdoses show little sign of abating. As a result, neither do the resources being devoted to helping families and neighborhoods.

In February, law enforcement reported 16 fatalities among 69 overdoses. Four deaths came over the last weekend of the month, and the first few days of March saw three more deaths – bringing the number to seven in about a week.

There were seven overdose deaths in the month of January.

For January and February, African Americans made up 15% of people who died and Latinos made up 10%, according to unofficial data.

“The opioid crisis has not gone away,” said Dr. Michael Mendoza, commissioner of the Monroe County Department of Public Health. “My worry has always been that we might lull ourselves into complacency by seeing numbers dropping. We need to keep our foot on the gas.”

Since February 2018, law enforcement agencies throughout the county, along with Rochester Regional Health System and and UR Medicine, have worked together as the Monroe County Heroin Task Force to identify hot spots of drug sales and use, to make arrests and bring charges related to overdose deaths, and help with treatment for people who are addicted.

The task force has made 147 arrests for drug-related offenses and helped with nine convictions on charges of criminally negligent homicide, manslaughter and criminal injection of a narcotic drug. Three cases are pending with the district attorney.

The figures were provided March 5 as Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter gave a two-year update on the task force.

The report “is not an indication of victory, rather a reflection of the work that is yet to be done as our community rallies to combat the opioid epidemic,” Baxter said in a news release. “The courageous, relentless, passionate work of the task force does reflect a stabilization of the crisis and a momentum to continue the commitment to save lives.”

The task force executed 114 search warrants and seized 76 firearms and $794,901 in cash.

County Executive Adam Bello has yet to lay out the specifics of his plan to address addiction and opioids. Bello campaigned on a four-point plan that would:

  • develop a network that would change the way patients receive and access treatment;
  • appoint an opioid director that will report to county executive and responsible for coordinating the efforts going on throughout the county, expand the prevention message, promote services available to families and improve data collection;
  • increase communication around addressing opioids, develop public goals and a vision for the effort; and
  • make it a priority to increase coordination between mental health and addiction services.

Meanwhile, the task force releases data monthly on overdoses and deaths. But the numbers are unofficial. The Monroe County Medical Examiner compiles the official data, but those statistics lag by several months.

Nevertheless, law enforcement data provide a real-time look at what is happening in the community.

While most of the overdoses occurred in Rochester, about half the towns and villages in the county have had at least one overdose – not necessarily resulting in death – in the first two months of this year. The oldest person has been 70 and the youngest was 18.

Recently, the gender gap has been narrowing. Official data for 2018 reported that females accounted for 30% of deaths. In 2019, of all overdoses – fatal and nonfatal – females accounted for 27%, according to unofficial data. For the first two months of this year, unofficial data showed females accounting for 34%.