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Health Alert: Whole Health Releases Updated 2023 Drug Related Death Data, Urges Community to Take Overdose Prevention Steps

(ITHACA, NY, March 4, 2024) – Tompkins County Whole Health (TCWH) has published bi-annual data on the number of drug related deaths in 2023, showing 12 deaths from July-December 2023. Since 2018 the number of yearly drug-related deaths has increased steadily, with 28 deaths in 2022 and 2023, up from 18 in 2018.

A health alert has been issued regarding opioid overdose prevention strategies following reports of recent overdose deaths and the results of local drug testing data provided by the Southern Tier AIDS Program showing nearly all street drugs contaminated with deadly Fentanyl and/or Xylazine.

At this time, the Tompkins County Medical Examiner’s (ME) Office is confirming three overdose deaths in 2024, with as many as three additional cases pending toxicology reports. The ME Office conducts independent investigations of unattended deaths, whether from criminal violence, accident, suicide, a sudden death when in apparent health, or by any unusual or suspicious manner in the county. The ME’s Office receives death investigator reports, autopsy (when deemed needed to determine cause) and toxicology reports, which are necessary to confirm cause of death. Toxicology lab results can take several weeks or longer to be returned. 

As has been reported in the past, illicit street drugs are often contaminated with highly addictive synthetic substances such as Fentanyl and/or Xylazine, which increase the potency of these drugs and also increase risk of overdose and death. The Southern Tier AIDS Program (STAP Inc.) provides free on-site drug checking and reports that of the 105 local “heroin” or “dope” samples they have collected in the past 9 months from Tompkins and Broome County, 100% contained Fentanyl and 74% contained Xylazine. Though the presence of Fentanyl and Xylazine in heroin has been constant, the amount present in each sample varies greatly, increasing the risk of overdose and death.   

Tompkins County Whole Health recommends the following overdose prevention strategies:

  • Never use alone. Use with others and take turns. If you are alone, call the “Never Use Alone” Hotline to be connected with an operator who will stay on the line while you use. Dial 877-696-1996.
  • Use fentanyl and xylazine test strips as a precaution.
  • Carry naloxone (Narcan) and be trained in its use.
  • Before using drugs, ask someone you trust to check on you regularly.
  • Go slow by taking small amounts, especially if you haven’t used in a while. There is no safe dose of opioids.
  • Wait long enough to feel the effects of what you took before taking more.
  • Avoid mixing with alcohol or other drugs, especially drugs that make you sleepy.
  • Seek treatment and support.
  • Always dial 9-1-1 in the event of a medical emergency.

Tompkins County Whole Health Commissioner Frank Kruppa stated, “Assume all illicit street drugs are contaminated with dangerous compounds that significantly increase chance of death from an overdose. If you are using illicit street drugs, please have your drugs tested, either at STAP or by using testing strips, and never use alone.” Kruppa continued, “We implore everyone in our community to pick up a Narcan kit and become trained in its use. In its nasal spray form, Narcan is simple to use and effective. Having a Narcan kit and being prepared to use it may save someone’s life.”

Kruppa added, “We must take steps to reverse the deadly trend that we’re seeing. This data shows that approximately two or more people are dying each month in our community from an overdose. We are urging everyone to become familiar with overdose prevention resources because we know that many of these deaths are preventable – the Centers for Disease Control reports that nationwide 64.7% of drug overdose deaths had at least one potential opportunity for intervention.”

Overdose Prevention Resources

Addiction And Mental Health Community Resources

  • Tompkins County Whole Health’s Mental Health Services: 607-274-6200
  • Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS): 607-273-5500
  • REACH Medical: 607-273-7000
  • To find other available treatment programs throughout the state, use the NYS OASAS online directory.
  • Ithaca Community Recovery’s support groups for individuals to help navigate your personal recovery, as well as for friends and families affected by their loved one’s substance use.
  • NYS OASAS HOPEline, a 24/7 helpline to call or text for support. Call 1-877-8-HOPENY (467369) or Text HOPENY (467369) for immediate assistance.
  • The 9-8-8 Lifeline call service is also available, 24/7, to speak confidentially with mental health professionals about your concerns; dial 9-8-8 to connect with this support.
  • Need help finding help? Dial 2-1-1 (1-877-211-8667) for supportive, local referrals and resource connections.

Learn more about local opioid statistics and additional resources online:


Tompkins County Whole Health envisions a future where every person in Tompkins County can achieve wellness. Find us online at, and follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter at @TCWholeHealth. Get Whole Health updates or other county announcements via email or text, sign up here.

Media contact: Shannon Alvord,