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Tompkins County had 100 fatal overdoses in 5 years. Experts say there are ways to reduce the risk

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Keith Srakocic
AP Photo
Narcan can help reverse an opioid overdose.

One hundred people died from unintentional overdoses in Tompkins County in the past five years, according to new data from Tompkins County Whole Health.

Most of the deaths occurred in 2022, when 26 people died. Less than half as many people died in 2019.

About half of the 100 overdoses over the past five years happened in the city of Ithaca. Food service workers made up almost a quarter of overall deaths.

Tompkins County Whole Health Commissioner Frank Kruppa said local testing showed that all of the drugs sold as heroin in Tompkins County were contaminated with fentanyl. Around three fourths of the test samples were also contaminated with xylazine.

“Our message now is that if you're using street drugs, you should just assume that it is contaminated with other substances that you might not be expecting, and to really take precautions because of that,” he said.

Kruppa said people who use drugs should have Narcan available, a nasal spray that can reverse an opioid overdose.

He recommends testing drugs before use and said to never use alone.

The Southern Tier AIDS Program in Ithaca tests drugs for free. They also offer fentanyl and xylazine test strips and Narcan.

Harm reduction coordinator Jeanine Westcott said reducing the stigma around drug-use makes people safer.

“When there's stigma, that incentivizes people to hide what they're doing,” she said. “And when people are hiding what they're doing, it's more dangerous and people die.”.

Westcott said people using by themselves should call the national “Never Use Alone” hotline at 877-969-1996.

She said an operator will stay on the line while a caller uses drugs and can call for help if needed. Some additional resources include Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services, Tompkins County Whole Health, and the REACH Project.