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County unveils virtual Narcan training as overdoses tick up 

Monroe County will offer weekly online training sessions on administering Narcan in response to heroin overdoses ticking upward in March and April.

The Monroe County Office of Mental Health will host the virtual sessions on Thursdays at 2 p.m. Participants will receive a supply of the overdose reversal drug at their doorstep the following day.

click to enlarge Jason Teller, a substance use planning and implementation specialist with the Monroe County Office of Mental Health. - PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
  • PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
  • Jason Teller, a substance use planning and implementation specialist with the Monroe County Office of Mental Health.
Jason Teller, a substance use planning and implementation specialist, said there’s a dire need for the training, as the practice of physical distancing has placed strains on residents’ mental health.

“The opioid epidemic is playing alongside this pandemic we’re in,” Teller said during a news conference Monday to announce the initiative. “It’s being exacerbated by it.”

Monroe County had 17 fatal opioid overdoses in March, followed by 12 in April, more than double for the same months last year, according to data provided by the Monroe County Heroin Task Force.

Teller said it’s unclear whether the pandemic is to blame, but noted the strong correlation. He added that outpatient centers are seeing a decrease in people seeking services, a trend which he finds alarming.

“On one hand, the numbers are showing an increase in opioid overdose rates, while at the same time we’re seeing this stagnation or decrease in people seeking help,” Teller said.

In a recent article in the Annals of Internal Medicine, National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow called substance abuse and COVID-19 a collision of public health crises. Volkow highlighted several concerns, including the toll physical distancing can have on people with substance use disorders.

“Social support is crucial for persons trying to recover from (substance use disorder), whereas social isolation is a risk factor for relapse,” Volkow wrote.

Kimberly Butler, chief of clinical and forensic services for the county’s Office of Mental Health, also expressed concern that physical distancing and the economic toll of the pandemic could have a detrimental effect on people’s mental health. Butler said she’s seen an increase in referrals for mental health services from people who have never engaged with the mental health or treatment systems before.

“It’s just a really trying time,” Butler said. “If someone’s lost their job or are unable to interact with their friends or usual support, it’s pushing all of us to the max.”

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at gfanelli@rochester-citynews.com.

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