New task force helps agencies work together to reduce overdoses

Local medical providers, law enforcement agencies, and social services providers now have a better way to coordinate their efforts to reduce drug overdoses and drug-related deaths in Montgomery County thanks to the recent formation of the Montgomery County Overdose Task Force.

The task force is composed of several local agencies and departments including Montgomery County Public Health, St. Mary’s Addiction Services, the Amsterdam Police Department, Montgomery County Probation, Social Services, Sheriff’s Department, and other individuals from the community who have been affected by the drug problem.

Tressa Rossi and Rita Bravo, director and assistant director of the Catholic Charities Perry Street Community Residence Program serve as co-facilitators of the task force.

“There is a lack of programs designed to treat people caught in the spiral of drugs,” said Rossi. “The task force will develop tools to address their specific needs.”

Bravo added that drug use is everywhere, and that people of many different demographics are at risk for overdosing on drugs.

“We have an aging population on pain killers who become addicted to opioids,” Bravo said. “No one is excluded. And one person saved is a win.”

Emerging from a series of harm reduction trainings held in April and May of this year, the force aims to provide resources and practical strategies in order to address the health and safety needs of people and families at risk in Montgomery County.

Keith Brown, Director of Health and Harm Reduction at the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, facilitated the series of ten day-long training sessions that led to the creation of the task force.

“Arrest and incarceration haven’t worked,” Brown said in regards to the effort to reduce drug-related deaths. “Every community should have a cross section of providers to coordinate efforts at the local level.”

Brown said law enforcement may not be knowledgeable about treatment options. In his view, drug abuse should be addressed as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue and coordinating efforts to reduce drug use would be more effective than arresting individuals.

According to Brown, Albany County has a similar task force that implemented a pre-arrest diversion program that gets individuals the help they need without arrest and incarceration.

And for those who are incarcerated, it’s important for them to have access to treatment while in jail.

Potential interventions discussed in the first several meetings of the task force also included the development and dissemination of a counties-specific resource guide, increased access to overdose prevention training, implementation of a harm reduction-focused post-overdose follow-up program, improved access to syringe exchange services, and greater peer recovery resources.

In one of the group’s first actions, they provided transportation, lunch, and task force t-shirts to 43 community members who joined several hundred other Capital Region residents at an Overdose Awareness Day memorial and rally in West Capitol Park in Albany on August 30.

Group members meet once a month to share ideas and coordinate efforts. The most recent meeting was held at the St. Mary’s Hospital Memorial Campus on September 20.