Opioid Deaths in Syracuse On the Rise

By: Tolani Ajagbe, MD

Tolani Ajagbe, MD, and Monika Taylor, MBA, LCSW, CASAC, Director Addiction Treatment Services




Tolani Ajagbe, MDThe COVID-19 pandemic has been the greatest public health crisis in the United States, with 600,000+ reported deaths. Prior to the pandemic, our nation’s number one public health crisis has been the opioid overdose epidemic. Efforts to control COVID-19, however, have shifted attention and needed resources away from the opioid epidemic, despite its increase as a result of the pandemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 88,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the U.S. during a 12-month period ending August 2020. This is the latest available data, representing the highest number of drug overdose deaths ever recorded nationally in any one-year timeframe.

Rise in Opioid Overdoses
Most of these drug-related deaths result from the use of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic similar to morphine, but 50 to 100 times more potent. The same picture is seen locally, with the Onondaga County Department of Health reporting a 40% increase in overdose deaths in the first nine months of 2020, as compared to the previous year. Local hospital emergency departments continue to report spikes in the number of stimulant overdoses from methamphetamine, cocaine and molly (MDMA).

“The co-existence of these two public health crises presents a critical threat.” The co-existence of these two public health crises presents a critical threat: Stress related to the pandemic has caused an increase in the number of new cases of addiction and has caused setbacks in recovery for those already engaged in treatment. Social isolation, lockdown measures, school closures, job losses and economic hardship, although unavoidable, have all contributed to the current increase in addiction and mental health issues, including trauma-related disorders and elevated suicide rates. Decreases in the rates of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have led to the CDC’s gradual relaxation of some of the current restrictive guidelines.

Resources are Imperative

As the nation continues to recover and life slowly returns to normal, we anticipate a renewed focus on the quietly surging drug overdose epidemic and other addiction-related issues. It is imperative that resources be directed toward readiness to provide these highly needed services in our community.

With the opening of the Bill & Sandra Pomeroy Treatment Center at Crouse Health, we are deeply committed to our efforts to expand access to care and ensure delivery of high-quality addiction and mental health treatment in our community. Crouse has been the regional leader in responding to the multitude of drug-related epidemics over the decades, and we remain focused on dedicating our resources, expertise, time and leadership to ensure that our community overcomes this devastating public health crisis.

Addiction Treatment Services New Bldg June 2021

The Bill & Sandra Treatment Center at Crouse Health opened in June. According to Dr. Ajagbe, the new facility is able to accommodate an additional 300 patients each year in a welcoming, safe and healing environment.

Tolani Ajagbe, MD is the Chief of Psychiatry and Medical Director of Crouse Health's Addiction Treatment Services.

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