Photo from the Rockefeller Institute of Government 

From the Rockefeller Institute of Government’s report on opioid addiction in Sullivan County: “Jill Neails, a resident of an affordable housing complex in Monticello, said she chooses to live with chronic pain rather than risk opioid addiction. She can’t say the same for some friends and family members.”

Study on opioid use in Sullivan County

SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — It’s well-known that Sullivan County, like most other counties in the U.S., continues to suffer through an opioid addiction crisis. Researchers at the Rockefeller Institute of Government decided to focus a study on the county, to shed some light on the impacts that the national epidemic is having on rural communities. They called the report “Stories from Sullivan” (

While there is not a lot new for people who have studied the issue, there are interesting points made throughout the report, such as whether or not addicts who ingest the powerful opioid fentanyl realize what they’re getting. The report says, “Although most people who are exposed to fentanyl are unaware that it was used to cut heroin, there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that others actively seek the drug. When we asked folks in Sullivan County about whether people know they are being sold fentanyl, one retired probation officer told us that some people go looking for it. When a death occurs, rather than alert people to avoid a particular dealer, it signifies to buyers the drug’s potential potency. ‘If it does kill somebody they run down the road and get more,’ he explained.”

The report cites numerous studies, including one that suggests that the impacts on rural communities differ from those on urban communities. It says, “In a now-famous study, researchers Anne Case and Angus Deaton found a surprising increase in midlife mortality among non-Hispanic whites living in the United States due to drug overdoses, suicides and chronic liver diseases. In interpreting their data, Case and Deaton have argued that these so-called ‘deaths of despair’ may be linked to declining wages, limited job opportunities and fewer marriages.

“In other words, failure to fulfill societal expectations has led to higher rates of suicide, drug abuse, and other risky behaviors, particularly among middle-aged white Americans. In Sullivan County, which is 73% white, the effects of joblessness and other ‘collateral issues,’ as they were described to us, can be seen while driving through town.

“As one service provider described it: ‘If you were to drive over Route 52 to go to ShopRite, it’s not uncommon—if you keep your eyes open—to see people walking over that overpass with a baby carriage, holding the baby in their arms, with everything they own in the carriage... Now put it this way. I’m going to be brutally honest with you. If I were in that position, I’d probably shoot dope too.’”

The report concludes, as have others, that one of the biggest problems about the addiction crisis in Sullivan County is access to appropriate care. “In rural areas like Sullivan, some services are just not available: There are no detox beds in the county’s premiere hospital, and service providers rely heavily on outpatient treatment. We heard over and over again about a lack of both treatment beds in qualified medical facilities and even just beds to sleep in at night.”

While some addicts do recover, including some in Sullivan County, the report makes clear that the journey is often difficult, and to families it can often seem like they’re taking the journey alone.


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