SCHENECTADY — Authorities are sounding the alarm over a rash of overdoses in Schenectady.
First responders were called to four overdoses, none of them fatal, within several hours on Thursday evening.
“It’s not typical we get calls like this back-to-back,” said Schenectady police Lt. Thomas Kelly.
Swift response by dispatchers with the Schenectady Fire Department and Mohawk Ambulance staved off fatalities, authorities said.
“We write this tonight not as a scare tactic,” wrote Schenectady Police Department on social media, “but as a warning.”
Kelly said at least two of the overdoses can be attributed to powdered fentanyl, which the victims acknowledged using.
“It’s probably a new product or new batch that someone has released,” Kelly said. “It’s abnormal and people should be cautious.”
Fentanyl typically is brown-colored and is packaged in glassine envelopes, he said. Used commercially as a painkiller, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin.
Officials said they would try to locate the sources, but warned the substance may be continuing to circulate throughout the city.
“We cannot stop what is already out in our community and the surrounding communities,” police said.
Authorities have responded to nearly 80 overdoses so far this year, said Dan Mareno, an assistant chief with the city Fire Department.
“We are averaging about two per week, but that number varies depending on what stuff is on the street,” Mareno said Friday.
‘SCHENECTADY CARES’ UPDATE
The outbreak comes a week after the launch of Schenectady Cares, a new program to steer addicts into recovery.
Those struggling with active addiction can now come to city police headquarters on Liberty Street and be guided into a recovery program by a team of volunteers and professionals.
Once met with a trained city police officer, State Street-based recovery center New Choices will help navigate the complexities of recovery.
New Choices has received five referrals since the program began.
ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
From left, COTI Program Director Chad Putnam, Mental Health Counselor and Mobile Clinician Teresa Shekerjian, and Recovery Peer Advocate Rocky Adorno, stand inside New Choices Recover Center on State Street in Schenectady on Friday, August 2, 2019.
“We were able to work with them and get them into the treatment they were looking for,” said Chad Putman, director of the Center of Treatment Innovation (COTI), New Choices’ mobile treatment team.
At least two of those referrals experienced recent overdoses, he said.
Not everyone is immediately willing to start a treatment plan or discontinue use, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take measures to reduce risk.
If someone isn’t willing to immediately stop using, New Choices aims to work with them on crafting a harm reduction plan, which may include the use of clean needles, obtaining strips that can test for the presence of fentanyl in powdered heroin, or obtaining Narcan, the anti-overdose antidote.
For those willing to get clean, a critical component is navigating insurance coverage.
New Choices’ COTI team works with insurance navigators to help people enroll in Medicaid. The treatment center also works with those unable to be placed immediately in a detox facility by obtaining medication-assisted treatment such as suboxone, which staves off withdrawal symptoms.
Ellis Hospital’s ER is also able to work with people in withdrawal, Putman said.
“We work with clients to bus them through to get them the treatment they’re looking for,” he said.
City police headquarters is the main portal for Schenectady Cares, but New Choices also conducts walk-in assessments Monday through Thursday at 1:30 p.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m. Four assessment slots are available daily.
Four clinicians and three peer advocates are also available to sit with people seeking help at city police headquarters prior to their entry into the program.
Kelly acknowledged it can be difficult to seek help and assistance for addiction.
He urged friends and families to be on the lookout for erratic behavior, but reminded parents to continue to discuss drug abuse with their kids.
“That’s the best defense, really, is education and awareness.”
Reach Gazette reporter Pete DeMola at 518-395-3113, [email protected] or @pmdemola on Twitter.