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COVID Pandemic Exacerbates Opioid Epidemic: Opioid Overdose Deaths Soar In Onondaga County

WAER file photo

Onondaga County Health officials are growing increasingly concerned that the opioid addiction crisis is worsening because of…and being overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Health Commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta is sounding the alarm after the county saw a 40 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths through September of last year compared to 2019.  She says their overdose tracking system shows the trend continued over the past two months.

"It's a real time reporting of the overdoses.  There is a lag, but we call it real time, which public health and first responders use.  We see where overdoses have occurred.  We have seen certain spike since January...a couple of times we've received notification.  That made me very concerned, and that happened in the city."

But Gupta says they’ve seen overdose spikes all over county, much of them linked to increased amounts of fentanyl in the drug supply.  The synthetic drug is added to heroin and other drugs to increase potency, but it also results in overdose occurrences.  Gupta says unemployment, isolation, despair, and disruptions in treatment caused by COVID are significant risk factors.  That’s why she says prevention is critical.

"Talk to your friends, family members, patients...anyone who may be suffering from addiction.  We really need to make sure we're there for them and connect them to treatment.  We are a resource-rich community."

Gupta encourages people to have naloxone on hand and get trained how to use it to reverse an overdose.  More than a dozen addiction treatment facilities can be found here.   

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at
Katie Zilcosky is WAER’s All Things Considered host and features reporter. She also co-hosts WAER’s public affairs show Syracuse Speaks. As a reporter, she focuses on technology, economy, and identity.