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Nine heroin overdoses in one day escalate calls for change

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This week NCPR is looking in-depth at the crisis of heroin use in rural New York and Vermont (hear those stories here.) Some officials say there needs to be a better way to track heroin overdoses and deaths. On Tuesday, nine people in Burlington overdosed in a single day, prompting calls for better coordination between police and healthcare experts.

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Sarah Harris
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Dr. Stephen Leffler is chief medical officer at Fletcher Allen Health Care, where Tuesday’s heroin over-dosers were all admitted. He says nine overdoses in one day is a lot.  

It's just so highly unusual to have a cluster like that. We typically see eight [heroin overdoses] over a couple months. Maybe three months.
"It’s just so highly unusual to have a cluster like that," Leffler says. "We typically see eight over a couple months. Maybe three months." 

None of the patients died. Fletcher Allen doesn’t normally disclose what happens in the emergency room. Because of patient privacy laws, they can’t tell the police any details. But Leffler says the hospital wanted to let people know that a bad batch of heroin might be going around, possibly from a single dealer. And he wonders if there’s a better way for law enforcement and health professionals to work together. 

"Of course for public service and for public safety I want to make sure we let people know — which is why we alerted the media. And I’m not sure that’s the best route to do but that’s the tool that we have. We hoped we were letting people know to be careful. "

At a forum in Plattsburgh last week, New York officials said combating heroin use will require more cooperation between agencies. Derek Champagne is District Attorney for Franklin County. He says all counties in New York state need to track heroin and drug overdoses. 

District Attorney Derek Champagne from Franklin County says counties need to begin tracking and reporting heroin overdoses and deaths more accurately.  Photo: Brian Mann
District Attorney Derek Champagne from Franklin County says counties need to begin tracking and reporting heroin overdoses and deaths more accurately. Photo: Brian Mann
"I don’t know how many currently are, but I can tell you until last week, my county was not. We had nothing in place to track overdoses."

Champagne says that could start with better death investigations. He says maybe the Department of Health could take the lead. 

The idea that law enforcement and health professionals need to work together is starting to take hold at a state level. The Glens Falls Post Star reports that the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Department of Health, Albany Medical Center and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services teamed up to offer training to law enforcement officials across the state.

The paper reports that police from Washington, Saratoga, Essex and Hamilton counties are now trained to carry and administer doses of Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the lethal effects of a heroin overdose. Their kits are supplied for free by the state. 

Zach Hirsch contributed to this report.

 

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