Watch CBS News

Social workers discuss important steps being taken by New York City in dealing with fentanyl crisis

Social workers discuss important steps being taken by NYC in dealing with fentanyl crisis
Social workers discuss important steps being taken by NYC in dealing with fentanyl crisis 03:49

NEW YORK -- The fentanyl crisis has meant an all-hands-on-deck approach from the city's first responders -- police, EMS, fire, and maybe most surprising, the Medical Examiner's Office.

On Monday, CBS New York had a conversation Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jason Graham that highlighted how their work has changed with the deepening of the crisis, and also showcased their latest lab equipment used in the fight.

On Tuesday, we meet some of the social workers there, in what may be one of the first programs of its kind to assist families beyond their grief.

READ MOREChief Medical Examiner Dr. Jason Graham explains NYC's all-hands-on-deck approach to battling the fentanyl crisis

You wouldn't necessarily think that counseling would go hand in hand with the work that the medical examiner and his team are doing, but it has transitioned into that.

"I think that this work really came about kind of organically. In the context of overdose, in particular, there's so much kind of shame and stigma, isolation, you know. A thing that we've heard from so many families is feeling so alone in this moment," family care coordinator Hannah Johnson said.

"Essentially, just calling them to let them know that we exist," Vanessa Gamarra added.

Johnson and Gamarra are members of the DIIG team -- Drug Intelligence and Intervention Group.

"There is no judgment. There is no survey to fill out. I don't need your insurance information. We're calling to essentially just check in checking in to see how they're doing and letting them know that we are here," Gamarra said.

READ MOREWhat is fentanyl, and how is it made? CBS New York goes inside a DEA laboratory for answers about the national crisis

As drug deaths from fentanyl reach record levels, with more than 3,000 deaths this year, their work has never been more critical. And their outreach extends far beyond comfort. Often, in the case of overdose deaths, the care that's needed requires a deeper and more specialized approach.

"We hear a lot of families who are experiencing a lot of regret, regret that may be that they haven't, that they didn't do well enough, or if I had reached out that one time, maybe that could have been a different outcome," Gamarra said.

When asked how her work helps to resolve the crisis and prevent more deaths, Johnson said, "I think that we see our work as overdose prevention in the fact that we are intervening in a moment of crisis and trying to make sure that it does not lead to a kind of unraveling of people's lives."

READ MORE"Fentanyl Kills" billboard unveiled in Times Square shows pictures of drug overdose victims

Johnson said losing a family member to a fentanyl overdose can sometimes mean bills may no longer be able to be paid, and even losing housing, as an entire family's life becomes unraveled.

"And the destabilizing effect that that's having in their life is, you know, ends up in a situation where they themselves are in an increased risk of overdose," Johnson said.

In many cases, an intervention can prevent a potentially deadly domino effect. Johnson and Gamarra said they believe providing stabilizing care, financial resources and long-term therapy is essential.

"This is one of the first programs in the country that I know of doing this work. It is a new frontier for a medical examiner's office to be involved in bereavement," Johnson said.

The funding for the DIIG team came from money recovered from opioid settlements from pharmaceutical companies, a small bit of good coming out of a really dire situation.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.