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Report: More Cayuga County residents are seeking treatment for opioid abuse

A new state report revealed that more Cayuga County residents entered treatment for opioid abuse in 2016 than 2015.  

In 2015, 348 Cayuga County residents were admitted to a state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services-certified treatment program, according to data from the latest County Opioid Quarterly Report, published this fall by the state Department of Health. That number increased to 361 in 2016 and stood at 104 for January through March of 2017.  

The report, which the state health department began publishing in 2016, also includes information about the number of opioid-related deaths, emergency room and hospital visits and administration of the overdose reversal drug naloxone. 

In 2016, the report states that 16 Cayuga County residents died as a result of an opioid overdose, which is a rate of 20.4 per 100,000 people. The rest of the state, excluding New York City, has an overdose death rate of 16.7 per 100,000 people. The local number is a slight decrease from 2015, when 17 Cayuga County residents died from an opioid overdose at a rate of 21.7 per 100,000 people.  

From January through March of this year, one person in Cayuga County fatally overdosed on opioids. In the same time period in 2016, four people died of opioid overdoses.  

At least 20 people have been treated in emergency rooms and hospitals for opioid overdose in the first quarter of 2017. Through July of this year, naloxone, the overdose reversal drug, has been administered 24 times by EMTs, law enforcement officers and registered community opioid overdose prevention programs.   

However, there are limitations to collecting the data, which the report acknowledges, including "significant time lag in confirming and reporting the causes of death and patient information" and differences in reporting procedures from county to county.  

Lon Fricano, the director of TLC ambulance and president of Auburn's Heroin Epidemic Action League, said unreliable data poses a problem when it comes to treating the opioid epidemic. He estimates that the number of people who have died from an opioid overdose is under-reported by about 20 percent. For example, he said, a person could be admitted to the hospital for a drug overdose, contract a disease such as pneumonia and then die. In that case, the cause of death would be listed as pneumonia, not a drug overdose.

Cayuga County Community Services Director Ray Bizzari said he takes it as a good sign that more people are entering treatment. 

"Generally speaking, you would hope that more people have elected to go into treatment because of all the awareness," Bizzari said. "Getting into treatment has gotten easier and there's more opportunities. I think that's definitely contributing to it."

Fricano agreed. 

"This is a result of public awareness, of reversing the stigma," Fricano said. 

Bizzari said there are more options now than ever for people who want to seek treatment for opioid abuse. 

East Hill Family Medical recently added addiction medicine and treatment to its list of services while Auburn Community Hospital has a 10-bed inpatient program in the works. Non-profits such as Confidential Help for Alcohol and Drugs, or CHAD, and Unity House also offer programs for those seeking treatment for addiction. HEAL, in conjunction with Nick's Ride, offer heroin, opioid and narcotics anonymous support groups.  

Some private doctors treat patients with opioid addictions by prescribing Vivitrol, a prescription can help prevent relapses after a detox.

"You want to have a lot of different options for people to get into treatment," Bizzari said. "There's not one way that works for everyone."

Fricano added, "No two addicts are the same."   

While there's been progress, Bizzari and Fricano both said more work needs to be done to reverse the stigma surrounding addiction. 

"We've got to stop looking at drug addiction as bad behavior because it's not bad behavior," Fricano said. "It's a disease."

Bizzari added, "I think the more we talk about this being a disease rather than a character flaw, people will be more willing to come forward. There's still a lot of shame involved."

Crews from 16 departments respond to fire at Brutus trucking company

BRUTUS — Over a dozen fire departments worked to extinguish a structure fire Sunday afternoon at Page Trucking, located at 2768 Trombley Road in the town of Brutus. 

Multiple drivers from the New York State Thruway reported the fire at around 12:40 p.m., according to Cayuga County 911. The 3.87-acre property is visible from the Thruway, located just before exit 40. According to Weedsport Fire Department Safety Officer John Clark, the structure, a large garage, was unoccupied and no injuries were reported. 

Clark said crews were working to put out the fire as quickly as possible to minimize damage to surrounding structures, however the garage is a total loss. The garage was filled with oil, gasoline and other chemicals which Clark said allowed the fire to travel quickly. He said adjoining structures may be salvageable with only smoke damage. 

Clark said he does not know where in the building the fire started or what caused it. He said the fire does not appear to be suspicious at this time, but it will be "some time" before a cause is know. Fire investigators were already at the scene. 

Crews were still battling flames nearly two hours after the fire started.

"The fire is under control but far from out," Clark said at around 2:10 p.m.

In addition to Weedsport, crews from Auburn, Port Byron, Throop, Sennett, Cato, Aurelius, Mottville, Owasco, Montezuma, Skaneateles, Conquest, Cayuga, Flemming, Ira and Victory responded to the fire. Cayuga County Emergency Services, Jordan Ambulance and AMR Ambulance were also at the scene.  

As of 3:45 p.m. Sunday, firefighters were still at the scene. 

Dan Titus, one of the owners and president of Page Trucking, said due to "strong contingency planning," the fire will not have much of an impact on the business's operations.  

"We appreciate the response and effort of all the first responders," Titus said. "We don't expect it to truly cease operations, more so just an inconvenience in the short term until we can get a new facility erected."  

Gallery: Page Trucking fire in Brutus

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Fire investigators search for what caused a fire at Page Trucking in Brutus on Monday.

Cayuga County donates Sennett property to soil and water district

The Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District now owns approximately 13 more acres in Sennett after the county Legislature donated it this month. 

Pending a survey, the land includes about 6.8 acres where the Natural Resources Center at 7413 County House Road sits, and an adjacent wetland that makes up about 6.1 acres. The Legislature passed a resolution last Thursday gifting the land, with a stipulation that it would return to the county should the district relocate or dissolve. 

The district now owns a little more than 26 acres in the area, including the land where the district's biogas digester is located. The county continues to hold approximately 64 acres behind that parcel and will continue to have access to a right of way.

According to the resolution, the district was first granted use of the property in 1990, and has been responsible for the upkeep of the grounds since 1996. Besides the Natural Resources Center, the property includes two storage buildings and a paved parking area. 

Public Works Committee Chair Terry Baxter said at a Ways and Means Committee meeting last week that the purpose of the resolution was to allow the district to own the land it already manages. Baxter said there had been some questions about giving the district the adjacent wetland, which has a retention pond to collect storm water runoff. 

"It's considered a wetland with an easement around it from the DEC (state Department of Environmental Conservation)," Baxter said. "There's no reason to hold that land out when they're the ones that are maintaining the pond."

At a soil and water district board meeting last Wednesday, the district's executive director Doug Kierst said after several years of discussion he was glad the land may finally be transferred.

"It's good," he said. "We're excited about it because we've been maintaining this property."

How does final $1.5 trillion GOP tax plan impact individuals, families?

The House and Senate are expected to vote this week on a $1.5 trillion tax plan that will largely benefit high income earners and wealthy corporations. Republicans tout tax reform as a major legislative victory — the first since President Donald Trump was sworn in 11 months ago.

Tax reform became a top year-end goal for Congress after the failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act. While there were discussions behind the scenes, the legislative process accelerated in early November when House Republicans released their tax plan. The bill passed in mid-November with support from most GOP members. No Democrats voted for the measure.

After the House acted, the Senate followed with its own proposal and votes. The Senate plan passed in early December, allowing congressional leaders to form a conference committee to negotiate the differences between the two bills.

On Friday, the conference committee released its report — the tax plan agreement — that will be voted on this week.

Here is an overview of the major provisions in the $1.5 trillion tax plan:

Income tax brackets

The final bill will retain seven income tax brackets. This follows the Senate plan, which called for keeping the same number of tax brackets that exist now. House Republicans hoped to consolidate the brackets into four.

The percentages are the same for single filers and married couples filing jointly. The brackets are 10 percent, 12 percent, 22 percent, 24 percent, 32 percent, 35 percent and 37 percent. Single filers earning more than $500,000 a year and married couples with total income exceeding $600,000 annually will pay the highest tax rate. The top rate has been reduced from 39.60 percent under current law.

Most individuals and couples will pay a reduced rate through the end of 2025.

Standard deduction

The agreement will double the standard deduction for individuals and couples. For single filers, the standard double will increase from $6,350 to $12,700. The deduction will increase from $12,000 to $24,000 for married couples.

Republicans have pointed to the doubling of the standard deduction when explaining why they have opted to eliminate other deductions. Since most people take the standard deduction instead of itemizing, they believe the benefits will outweigh the costs.

The alternative minimum tax and estate tax

Republicans wanted to eliminate both taxes, but ultimately kept them in the final tax plan.

The final bill increases the alternative minimum tax exemption for single filers and married couples. For couples, the exemption would be $109,400. For single filers, it would be $70,300. Supporters say this would decrease the number of people who are subject to the alternative minimum tax.

The threshold for the estate tax will be doubled. For individuals, the estate tax exemption will increase from $5.5 million to $11 million. For married couples, the exemption increases from $11 million to $22 million.

Mortgage interest deduction

The GOP plan preserves the deduction, but with a significant change for new homeowners.

For those who buy a new home, the deduction will apply to the first $750,000 of the purchase. The current level is $1 million.

House Republicans wanted to lower the deduction to $500,000, but that plan was abandoned in negotiations. They settled on the $750,000 figure in the final agreement.

State and local tax deduction

This has been a major issue in tax negotiations. Leaders from New York and other high-tax states have criticized attempts to eliminate the deduction, which currently allows individuals and couples to deduct state and local income, property and sales taxes.

When the House GOP plan was released, it called for the elimination of the deduction. House Republicans from New York and other states pushed for a compromise. That compromise — allowing homeowners to deduct up to $10,000 of state and local property taxes — was in the final House GOP bill passed in mid-November.

Like the initial House Republican proposal, the Senate bill would have eliminated the state and local tax deduction. But U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, pushed to add the House compromise to the Senate plan. The amendment was included when the Senate approved its tax measure earlier this month.

The conference committee report builds on the compromise. Individuals and couples will be able to deduct up to $10,000 of state and local income, property and sales taxes. Republicans say this will allow taxpayers to choose how to best maximize the deduction.

Education provisions

There were some controversial elements of the House and Senate tax plans that impacted education.

The House plan would have considered certain college tuition benefits as taxable income. For example, a graduate student receiving a tuition waiver for their work as a research or teaching assistant would have to pay taxes on the tuition reduction they receive. The same would have been true for a college employee who receives free or reduced tuition for their spouse or children.

The final tax bill does not include this provision. The tuition benefits will not be considered taxable income.

House Republicans also proposed eliminating a $250 deduction for teachers to purchase classroom supplies. The deduction will not be eliminated. The final legislation doesn't include the House provision, according to the conference committee report.

The $2,500 student loan interest deduction will not be eliminated. The House plan would have ended the deduction, but that proposal didn't survive in the final bill.

However, critics note that the changes to the state and local tax deduction will have a major impact on public education funding. The $10,000 cap on the deduction would likely lead to reduce revenues at the local and state level, which could result in reduced aid for public schools.

Tax credits

The GOP tax plan expands the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000. The credit is the same level for single filers and couples. It's a refundable tax credit up to $1,400 and will be phased out for families earning more than $400,000, according to a summary of the legislation.

A key provision: To receive the credit, parents must provide a valid Social Security number for each child.

The child and dependent care tax credit will be preserved. The same is true for the adoption tax credit. Early GOP proposals called for the elimination of the adoption tax credit. But the credit was preserved in the final bill.

The earned income tax credit will be preserved.

Health care provisions

The GOP tax plan eliminates the individual health insurance mandate. The provision requiring people to buy health insurance is part of the Affordable Care Act, a 2010 health care law commonly referred to as "ObamaCare."

Republicans have spent years railing against the law and attempted to repeal it dozens of times.

Repealing the individual mandate could have a significant impact on the health insurance market. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that 13 million more people would be uninsured in 10 years if the requirement is eliminated. Ending the mandate could increase premiums, too.

The tax reform agreement also expands the medical expense deduction. Filers will be able to deduct medical expenses more than 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income for 2018 and 2019. The threshold will rise to 10 percent in 2020.