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Local expert says opioid crisis is worsening in Onondaga County

Oxycodone prescriptions are among those blamed for sparking the opioid epidemic.
John Smith
Dr. Ross Sullivan stands in his office at Helio Health in Syracuse overlooking Interstate 81.

Editor's Note: The following story contains excerpts from WAER's public affairs show "Syracuse Speaks" which airs Thursday Feb. 1 from 2 - 3 PM. We're focusing on the opioid epidemic, how medical providers are trying to help and if opioid lawsuit settlement funds are helping.

Onondaga County is no stranger to the opioid and drug crisis. Experts like the Medical Director at Helio Health say the drug scene is extremely active and worsening. Dr. Ross Sullivan says, for many experimenting with illegal drugs, their first time using is often lethal.

“We’re seeing a new crop of people in the last several years who are not opioid users who are dying from fentanyl… because fentanyl is in the cocaine. It’s in the pills. You know, it’s in the MDMA, the Ecstasy and they’re dying. They don’t have any tolerance to it.”

The doctor says local drug use is increasing in all age demographics and ethnicities, especially in male users between 18 to 36. He explains drug treatment options have improved but, for those who take drugs with fentanyl, the odds of recovery are not good.

“The stakes are so high now. Ten to 15 years ago if you relapse on heroin, you probably didn’t die. Today with fentanyl, if you relapse, you could die. It’s so potent and deadly. We use the latest medications to treat addiction.”

Dr. Sullivan says Helio Health's treatment often includes mental health medications in combination with counseling and therapy.

“Our goal is to get people on these medicines and then we make an informed decision with the patient, once they are stable, what is best for that patient. Some patients can maybe come off the medications, most cannot.”

He says the continuous prescribed medication approach to detoxify maximizes the best chances for success in a patient’s recovery from drug addiction.