In response to a rise in overdose deaths in Westchester County during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Westchester County Departments of Community Mental Health, Health, Social Services, Public Safety, the Medical Examiner’s Office and the County Executive’s Office have partnered with the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, and local and federal law enforcement to launch the Opioid Response and Overdose Prevention Initiative (ORI). The ORI brings together key stakeholders from across Westchester County who work collaboratively to prevent overdose deaths, and save lives.
ORI partners meet regularly to address the following:
- Collaborate on public health and law enforcement data sharing.
- Identify which communities are most in need of overdose support services.
- Execute more effective education, training and distribution of Naloxone or “Narcan,” a vital tool for preventing fatalities in people at a high risk for drug overdoses.
- Conduct more thorough data collection, analysis and transparency relating to overdoses.
- Increase community education, outreach and support services to populations in need.
- Increase access to addiction, mental health, and co-occurring treatment, harm reduction and family support services, including substance use prevention services.
- Find and implement evidence-based treatment approaches for individuals with addiction who are also struggling with co-occurring mental health needs.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer said: “ORI brings together the most important stakeholders, health professionals and community servic providers to address a critical issue that we want to see come to a stop in Westchester County. We want every resident to know that if they are struggling, there are real support services in place to help them overcome their addiction. It is our hope that by working together, we will see fewer of these tragic, preventable deaths occurring in Westchester County.”
Westchester County District Attorney Miriam E. Rocah said: “Preventing and combatting overdoses is a top priority for me that requires action from those in government and community partners. This initiative will allow us to more effectively collaborate, to create meaningful solutions that address all components of this crisis, and to develop enforcement strategies that target emerging threat areas and individuals, including medical professionals, who perpetuate the opioid crisis by supplying those suffering from substance use disorders, including minors, with harmful substances.”
According to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 100,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States during the 12-month period ending in April 2021, accounting for the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a single year. Seventy-five percent of those overdose deaths were opioid-related, primarily involving fentanyl. Westchester County also experienced an increase in overdoses at the local level, with Westchester County recording 119 overdose deaths in 2020, an increase of 28 over the previous year (2019). In addition, there have been many nonfatal overdoses in the County, which can cause serious physical and emotional impact on the individual and their loved ones.
The efforts of the ORI have already led to positive results. Westchester County has increased naloxone education, and equipped local law enforcement departments, emergency medical services and the general community with the potentially life-saving drug. Medication Assisted Treatment has also expanded to facilitate increased access to substance use disorder treatment. The entities participating in the ORI have the data sharing abilities to identify which communities are most in need of overdose support, and assist them with the services they need.
Commissioner of the Department of Community Mental Health (DCMH) Michael Orth said: “Under the leadership and vision of County Executive Latimer and District Attorney Rocah, and the strong collaboration between County Departments, Westchester County has created a multi-faceted approach in responding to the Opioid and overdoes epidemic. Westchester’s ORI efforts have strengthened our ability to expand community education, outreach and support, and use of evidence-based substance use, mental health, and co-occurring treatment for individuals struggling with addition and their families.”
Commissioner of Health Dr. Sherlita Amler said: “Substance use disorder is a complex and often multifaceted disease that requires an all hands on deck approach to address. The ORI brings together individuals across disciplines to provide their unique expertise around prevention, response and treatment. Collaboration between public health and mental health professionals, law enforcement, first responders, the medical community and people who use drugs, gives us the ability to transform the way we understand the problem, as well as how we prevent and treat it.”
Commissioner of the Westchester County Department of Public Safety Thomas A. Gleason said: “Investigators assigned to the Real Time Crime Center continue to coordinate with the District Attorney’s Office and local police departments to collect timely and accurate data regarding overdoes. This data helps to inform appropriate law enforcement investigations and community outreach efforts. In addition, our Patrol officers have been trained to administer Narcan to persons suffering an overdose and have saved numerous lives in recent years as a result.”