CAYUGA COUNTY, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) –In Cayuga County, life-saving research is underway. It’s part of a national effort to combat the opioid epidemic. The county got funding through The National Institute for Drug Abuse to bring local stakeholders together, collect data, and make changes.

The three-year study is happening in four states and nearly 70 counties, including Cayuga.

“We got selected because we really had a problem over the last few years but on the other hand, the study brings resources and grant funding,” said Monika Salvage, the Project Director, for the Cayuga County HEALing Communities Study.

Those leading the research are working together in a way they haven’t before. It involves a group of people in what’s called a steering committee. The group is made up of professionals in dealing with addiction and substance abuse, mental health, and members of law enforcement.

What they’re finding so far, after starting this January, is the numbers are not exactly going in the right direction right now. In 2017, 17 people died of an opioid overdose in Cayuga County. In 2018, that number grew to 24 people. After efforts from local organizations in 2019, they saw nine overdose deaths. But this year, from January to May alone, 12 people have already died of an overdose.

“So that’s very concerning for us and the steering committee is looking into and has already implemented responses for that,” Salvage said.

One of those responses included creating an online training system on how to use NARCAN, the nasal spray that reverses an overdose. It’s a much needed resource during the pandemic.

“We’re finding people are getting lonely and a lot of them are connecting with old friends and old people that they used to use with who are not healthy. And then the next thing you know somebody’s got something or suggests something and then it’s off to the races,” said Kevin Hares, the Executive Director of C.H.A.D., or Confidential Help for Alcohol and Drugs, Inc.

Because of the pandemic, many struggling with addiction haven’t had access to the typical resources they normally rely on. However, this study group is working to stop those behaviors before they continue.

“We’ve learned that we can all talk to each other and we can add legal, law enforcement, courts, I mean everybody is in this, swimming together,” Hares said.

The online training for NARCAN use is on the Cayuga County Health Department website. People can request free NARCAN from that site. Since they posted it three weeks ago, 100 people have had NARCAN sent to their homes.

For more local news, follow Julia LeBlanc on Twitter @JuliaLeBlancNC9.