Seven heroin or cocaine overdoses in the last three days are prompting officials in Central New York to issue a “spike alert.”

The Oneida County Sheriff’s Office says an increase in heroin and opioid overdoses necessitated the public health alert.

In addition to the overdoses the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP) also displayed “a trend in both intentional and unintentional overdoses involving youths aged 18 and under that included vaping marijuana/THC and ingesting over-the-counter prescription pills.”

According to the Oneida County Overdose Response Team there have been nine overdoses involving minors since Wednesday, December 1, 2021.  By contrast in all of 2020 there were ten overdoses by minors.  Of the December overdoses three were intentional and six were unintentional.  The total number of overdoses by minors in 2021 was 25.  The statistics in 2021 show a 150% increase over those for 2020.

In a written statement Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said, “Recently, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a public health advisory on the pandemic’s unprecedented impacts on the mental health of youth, and our overdose surveillance data is reflecting that impact in our community.”

Many of the unintentional overdoses were the result of vaping.  In addition to the dangers caused by the potential combustibility of vape pens, the health risks appear to be mounting, in part because the e-cigarettes - originally intended to be used by smokers to help them quit smoking – are instead now the vehicle by which many young people become interested in smoking.  In a now often-cited 2019 interview by Tony Dokoupil on “CBS This Morning,” Kevin Burns, then the CEO of popular e-cigarette manufacturer Juul, said, “As a parent of a 16-year-old, 19-year-old, I don't want my kids using the product. It's not intended for them. They're not smokers or former smokers trying to use the product. We never want them to use the product. And I have empathy for them, for what they're going through, dealing with their kids trying to go through any kind of difficulties, especially an addiction to a product that has nicotine in it."

Vaping by Daniel Ramos on Unsplash
Vaping by Daniel Ramos on Unsplash
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According to Truth Initiative, a non-profit group whose mission is to inspire “lives free from smoking, vaping and nicotine,” the use of e-cigarettes by “young people has skyrocketed in recent years and remains at epidemic levels: about one in five high school students used e-cigarettes in 2020, many of whom were not smokers in the first place.”

The trend upward in December is concerning because the numbers had started to trend downward.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse illicit drug use had gone down overall from 2020 to 2021.

2021 Monitoring the Future Survey Graphic Courtesy: National Institute on Drug Abuse www.drugabuse.org
2021 Monitoring the Future Survey Graphic Courtesy: National Institute on Drug Abuse www.drugabuse.org
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As part of the Oneida County alert Dr. Avinash Kambhampati, Assistant Medical Director of MVHS’ Faxton St. Luke’s said that vape pens, including those with THC, “...often have unknown psychoactive substances within them, and we see in the emergency department wildly unpredictable and dangerous immediate clinical presentations. This is in addition to significant long-term adverse health effects.”

That was evidenced by a recent incident at Oneida Herkimer Madison BOCES recently, where a vaping incident sent three students to the hospital after four had smoked from the same vape pen.

Authorities say that vaping pens are frequently mislabeled and some contain toxic substances and chemicals, including pesticides.

Experts urge parents to examine objects because many vape pens looks like flash drives or regular writing pens.

Vape Pen Photo Credit: Vaporesso @vaporesso on Unsplash
Vape Pen Photo Credit: Vaporesso @vaporesso on Unsplash
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Vape Pen by Sven Kucinic on Unsplash
Vape Pen by Sven Kucinic on Unsplash
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Depression has increasingly become an issue for children and teenagers already stressed by isolation and the pandemic.  Smoking and drug use can often be confused as an antidote to sadness and loneliness.

Uplifting Signs Photo Credit: Dan Meyers on Unsplash
Uplifting Signs Photo Credit: Dan Meyers on Unsplash
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If you suspect that your teenager, or someone else you love, is suffering from mental anguish authorities urge parents and family members to seek help immediately.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (available 24/7):
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Report the Sale of Concentrated Cannabis to Individuals Under the Age of 21:
Oneida County Sheriff’s Office
(315) 736.8364

Or call your local police department or sheriff’s office

Information about Mental Health and Substance Use Services:
Herkimer County: (315) 867.1465
Lewis County: (315) 405.0696
Madison County: (315) 697.3947
Oneida County: (315) 768.3660
Onondaga County:  (315) 471.1359

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