County Health Official Maps Jefferson County Drug Overdoses

Trevor Wickstrom, Staff Reporter

Stephen Jennings, our local Jefferson County Health Planner, plotted all the confirmed drug overdose deaths in Jefferson county between 2010 and 2016. The resulting maps are certainly dramatic.

Jennings used data from the county coroner’s office, the state, and the Census Bureau along with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC.  He and his staff organized the deaths by town, and blocks. The maps also includes the total deaths by county.

As noted in the report, more than half of the deaths were caused by opiates, which means drugs in the heroin family but also the abuse of prescription pills like oxycontin.

According Watertown Daily Times, Jennings stated, “You can see that 55 percent of overdose deaths are in the city, but that doesn’t get to the essence of the problem. We thought it important to (map this data) to understand where to focus.”

On one of Jennings maps, it shows that between 2010 and 2016 there have been 110 overdose deaths, with Watertown seeing almost half of the drug overdose deaths happening in Jefferson County.

According to a CDC map, there was a significant increase in drug overdoses in the northeast part of the country in general, with sixteen states showing an increase of at least 20% over the last year, between 2014 and 2015.  Thirteen of those sixteen states were in the northeast.

According to New York State Community Action Association, there are 116,538 people living in Jefferson County, with a 15.8% poverty rate. And Jennings correlates drug use with poverty, stating, “[there are factors] like socioeconomic status. Drugs don’t discriminate, but poverty presents additional challenges with addiction.”  

One map shows Watertown separated into blocks, revealing that Central Square and the immediate areas with the highest a death toll of 15 between 2010 and 2016.

The maps show the rise in drug use in Jefferson County, with only three deaths by overdose recorded in 2005, up to 23 deaths in 2015.

These numbers may even be low, because some of the overdose patients are transported to Syracuse, making them a statistic of the city they died in, rather than where the overdose took place.

According to Watertown Daily Times, Jennings stated, “The question becomes — do we focus more intervention in these areas? How do we best get neighborhoods the resources they most need? We had a hunch (about these trends) but to put it on a map is a real eye-opener. We hope having this visualization will get the right attention.”

Judging from the comments left by visitors to the WDT article, the maps are definitely causing people to wonder what the community and the government can do to help stop these kinds of deaths.