OLEAN — As the pandemic continues, so does the rise with stress-related issues in the community.
And that includes opioid and alcohol use.
At the Council on Addiction Recovery Services (CAReS), executive director Michael Prutsman said that while the agency has seen less heroin use, the street heroin that is being sold is often cut with fentanyl or methamphetamines.
“The people who are using it are getting something other than they think they are,” Prutsman said. “So I’m actually surprised that there are not more overdoses. Fentanyl in very low doses is deadly.”
CAReS, headquartered in Olean, has outpatient services that provide suboxone for treatment of opioid drugs as well as a residential center in Westons Mills. Prutsman said the agency has seen a rise in the use of prescription opiates and a rise in referrals for alcohol use in the area. Prutsman said he has heard of a few overdose deaths in the community, but not with CAReS clients, which he attributes to treatment they receive.
“People who come to us say they’re dealing with pandemic stress,” he said, adding the rise in drug and alcohol use has made the need for a “bonafide inpatient detox” facility even more critical.
“There’s just such a need for it,” he said, noting Olean General Hospital can keep overdosed individuals 48 to 72 hours before releasing them. Unfortunately, a number of those same people immediately return to substance use after being released from the hospital.
There also has been a rise in people visiting the emergency department or trying to “doctor shop” by going to multiple doctors for prescriptions.
“They go to one doctor and try to get a prescription and go to another doctor for another prescription,” Prutsman said.
This practice is thwarted in some instances through the I-Stop Act. I-Stop operates through a cross-check system that tracks prescriptions electronically and prevents individuals from obtaining the same drugs at various pharmacies.
“What was happening prior to I-Stop … was a person would go to Doctor A and tell him he had back pain and he would give (the patient) a script for 120 opiate pills, oxycontin or whatever,” Prutsman explained. “He would go to Doctor B and he would do the same thing.”
Prutsman said Assemblyman Joseph Giglio, R-Gowanda, was instrumental with pushing the I-Stop legislation through in the state.
As for CAReS’s outpatient and residential services, Prutsman said the agency is “definitely not lacking in referrals” for people in need of help.
“When COVID hit, we weren’t able to take referrals right away, but we’ve been open the whole time” to the community, he said. “At our outpatient (clinic) we’re still seeing clients here and they’re, of course, following masking and social distancing through CDC guidelines. It’s the same thing in our residential facilities.”
In addition, the Cattaraugus County Health Department has provided Covid testing at the residential facilities, and CAReS’ medical staff plan to offer weekly testing onsite in the near future.
“We received a grant from the Western New York Foundation to help us with our COVID needs,” he said, adding there have been very few individuals in CAReS’ outpatient services who have contracted Covid.
“Our clients are very good about maskiing and social-distancing,” he continued. “If a client refuses to use a mask, we can offer them telehealth services.”
With that said, Prutsman said there are clients who don’t have reliable or secure internet or phone service to participate in telehealth provisions.
“Another issue for some families is there are no childcare services available,” he observed. “With the pandemic, some childcare facilities (or schools) are not open” preventing parents from receiving services. As a result, Prutsman now sits on the Western New York Digital Coalition which is problem-solving group that plans to ensure everyone will eventually have access to reliable broadband or cell services.
Donna Kahm, president and CEO of Southern Tier Health Care Systems, also commented on the rise in opioid and alcohol use in the community since the start of the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think the number of overdoses has decreased, but the ability to save people has,” Kahm said. “People have learned to use Narcan (for reversal of opioid overdoses) and learn to have it available to them … (as for) the amount of deaths, I don’t know if that has increased, but definitely we’ve seen an increase in overdoses.”
(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)