Task Force leader says 2018 off to ‘really bad start’ with drug overdoses

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 February 2018 at 3:29 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers: Joe Sacco, supervising investigator for the Orleans County Major Felony Crimes Task Force, said heroin when mixed with fentanyl has proven deadly in Orleans County.

ALBION – So far in 2018, overdoses and deaths from drugs in Orleans County are outpacing the rate in 2017.

Last year there were 43 overdoses and 8 fatal drug overdoses, said Joe Sacco, the supervising investigator with the Orleans County Major Felony Crimes Task Force.

This year there have already been 8 overdoses and two fatalities. This time last year, there were two overdoses and one death from drugs, Sacco said.

“We’re off to a really bad start,” he told the Orleans United Drug Free Communities Coalition this morning during a meeting at the Hoag Library in Albion.

Sacco has worked 32 years as a law enforcement officers, including the past 28 years as a drug investigator.

The drugs have changed from cocaine and marijuana early in his career to prescription pills, heroin and fentanyl now.

Many of the drug users get hooked on pain pills. When the prescriptions expire, they turn to heroin to feed the opiate addiction.

The heroin is often laced with fentanyl and that has been deadly. Sacco said 95 percent of the heroin and fentanyl in Orleans County comes from Rochester. A lethal batch of drugs from Rochester is often purchased by an Orleans County resident and shared with friends, resulting in multiple deaths.

“We are actively pursuing the source and supply of the heroin and fentanyl mixture,” Sacco told the coalition members.

The Task Force and other law enforcement agencies in Orleans County work with Rochester police and other departments outside Orleans. There is a mapping system to track where drugs are purchased and where there are overdoses.

“This is everybody’s problem and we’re trying to curb the supply of heroin and fentanyl to this area,” Sacco said. “We have a real problem.”

Sacco said heroin has become a big problem in Orleans County the past two to three years. Of the 43 overdoses last year, Narcan was used 27 times to revive someone in an overdose.

Joe Sacco addresses members of the Orleans United Drug Free Communities Coalition this morning during a meeting at the Hoag Library in Albion.

When someone has an overdose, law enforcement will track recent numbers on cell phones to see where the drugs were likely purchased. The people who overdose often have needles hanging in their arms and bags of drugs right next to them.

Law enforcement will have those drugs analyzed at a lab, and typically it shows heroin and fentanyl.

“That’s what’s killing these folks, the mix,” Sacco said.

Some of the overdoses occur when someone gets out of jail. After being in jail and off drugs, a person’s tolerance is reduced. Sacco said some people will go back to using at levels they were before they went into jail and then they will often overdose.

Sheriff Randy Bower said he is pursuing having a portion of the jail be used as a detox center to help inmates better transition off drugs. He also wants a better system to hand off inmates to services and agencies that can help them from having a relapse.

Sacco said continued vigilance is needed by law enforcement and the community.

A new organization, Orleans Hope, is trying to break the stigma of drug addiction and urge users and their families to get help.

Orleans Hope will lead a program on March 15 at the Orleans County YMCA on Pearl Street in Medina. Orleans Hope will have professionals at the meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m. to discuss warning signs for drug addiction.

Orleans Hope also has trained recovery coaches to assist users.

“Everyone needs to do their part,” Sacco said. “This thing is horrible.”

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