NORWICH — According to the City of Norwich Police Department (NPD) and the City of Norwich Fire Department (NFD) the City and Town of Norwich saw four suspected drug overdoses since the beginning of the month.
“The Norwich Police Department as well as the Norwich Fire Department have responded to four overdoses over the past several days, where the individual was either using cocaine or heroin and needed to have Narcan administered, and then be transported to the hospital,” reported NPD Detective Sergeant Reuben Roach.
Anyone with information on the weekend's events are asked to contact Norwich PD at 607-334-1212 or the NPD Tips line at (607) 336-TIPS (8477).
One of the individuals died on Saturday, February 5, according to the NPD, and they are investigating the death as it may be linked to the overdoses. Roach said the NPD is working alongside other agencies as well to determine who is selling the drugs that led to these events.
“At this time, we are awaiting the medical examiner's findings from the autopsy of a particular individual who died on Saturday, February 5, in the City of Norwich,” he said. “Additionally, we are working with multiple Law Enforcement agencies and the Chenango County District Attorney’s Office in an attempt to find and prosecute the individual(s) responsible for selling and distributing this product in our area."
Norwich police are also exploring the possibility that fentanyl was mixed with the drugs, and have sent evidence samples to be tested.
"The Norwich Police Department has sent drug evidence out to be tested at the New York State Police Crime Lab, to ascertain if the cause of the overdoses is related to the cocaine or heroin being mixed with fentanyl," read a press release from the Norwich Police Department. "Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid and is used to intensify and make the drugs stronger, oftentimes leading to overdose and frequently death."
Norwich Fire Department Chief Jan Papelino explained that those who use drugs typically increase the amount over time to achieve the same effect. Unfortunately, fentanyl can be mixed in without their knowledge, and can lead to fatal outcomes.
"Fentanyl, it usually doesn’t take a whole lot. I think that’s the trouble with fentanyl," he said. "A lot of times it's put in there and they don’t even know it's there. They think they’re getting one thing, and they’re getting something laced with fentanyl."
"That’s the scary part of it, because they're using something, some recreational drug that they felt they've been using for a period of time," he continued. "They might be getting some of that, but then they get fentanyl and it can be very detrimental."
When responding to a call involving an overdose, Papelino said Norwich Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel must work quickly. They also try to ascertain the type of drug involved, as Narcan, a potentially life saving treatment, only works on opioids.
"We just get there and try to assess the patient quickly," Papelino explained. "If anybody is there, try to find out exactly, you know, do you know what they took? Because that’s usually pretty important. If you know they were a heroin user, what did they take? Was it that or was it something else? Because Narcan, it works on opioids, but on other drugs it does nothing for them."
He said Narcan can be administered either using a syringe or squeezed into the individual's nasal passages to be effective. Both EMS personnel and NPD officers are trained to use Narcan, and carry it with them in the event of an overdose.
“Our officers carry and are trained in the use of Narcan, and we want those who struggle with substance abuse to use extreme caution with these substances,” said NPD Chief Rodney Marsh.
The Norwich Police Department urges those who use drugs to exercise caution, and to seek medical care immediately if they suspect they may be overdosing. Papelino said Narcan intervention can "absolutely" be the difference between life and death.
The rate of overdoses has grown over the last several years, according to Papelino. However, he said it appears to be a national problem, not just local.
"Is it significantly higher? Certainly this past weekend just seemed to be," he said. "Certainly over probably the past four or five years it's gone up significantly. And I think that’s country-wide, it’s not just locally here. I mean, it's a problem nationwide."
"Are we any worse?" he continued. "You know, you go over to Oneonta, you go to Binghamton, you go to Syracuse; Every town has its issues with it, and I don't know that we’re really worse than any other municipality, but we just hear about it more because this is where we live."
In the Norwich area, he said fluctuations in the amount of overdoses are common, and said EMS calls to overdoses are "not every day, but typically not unusual to be a couple times a week."
While the City of Norwich currently offers assistance to those struggling with substance use, more help is on the way. Friends of Recovery of Delaware and Otsego Counties announced at a joint committee meeting on Tuesday, February 1 that they would be opening a facility in Norwich sometime this spring.
The facility will be located at 24 East Main Street in Norwich, and will offer recovery-friendly employment assistance, as well as resources for housing and mental health services.
"Obviously whatever's being done right now, at least in my mind, isn’t enough," said Papelino. "Hopefully they can help. They can help maybe bridge the gap or give people another option."
He also spoke to the difficulty of overcoming addiction, and said that resources and help are necessary as it can be extremely hard to recover alone.
"It's very few people that do it on their own. You know, some do, I know a few that have over the years, but very few people. It's certainly not the norm. I mean, it’s not easy," Papelino said. "Those drugs have a terrible draw on those people."
"People think that it's easy to just swear off it, but you look at people that smoke and how some of those, just when they try to quit smoking, how that nicotine keeps drawing them back," he added. "I know people that have stopped smoking five, six times and they eventually go back. It’s all about the addiction."
For those who have loved ones struggling with addiction, Papelino said it's important to try to get them the help they need. Although, he added it can be difficult as sometimes people using substances don't realize they have a problem.
"Hopefully people know if their loved one is an addict or not and try to get them help," he said. "A lot of times, I’ve had this conversation before with people, you can’t help someone that doesn’t want to be helped. And unfortunately that’s a lot of it. Until they completely bottom out, a lot of them don’t feel they have an issue."
Ultimately, compassion is key when helping those struggling with addiction. Papelino stressed that they are still people — someone's parent, child, sibling, or friend — and they are deserving of help.
"People make a choice sometimes in life to do things. But it’s still, these people that are the addicts, they’re still somebody's child ... some of them are parents," said Papelino. "It can be sad. It is sad."