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Preston Says Heroin Overdose Deaths Must Be Confirmed Before Reported

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Broome County Executive Candidate Jason Garnar called for a public health warning on heroin overdoses Thursday night. 

Meanwhile County Executive Debbie Preston is facing criticism in the community over how the county collects and reports overdose numbers.

"We are losing people every single week and to pretend that we aren't doesn't make any sense to me and I don't care if we don't have exact, specific numbers," said Penny Stringfield, co-president of the Board of the Addiction Center of Broome County.

The Broome County Health Department reported 11 overdose deaths from January to June, but members of addiction awareness groups and Garnar supporters say that number is higher, and that County Executive Debbie Preston doesn't see the urgency in reporting presumed overdose deaths.

"I think she's just not understanding how important it is to be totally transparent and honest and aggressively look for these numbers, not just wait to find them, but find ways to collect the data," said Stringfield.

Preston said confirming heroin as the cause of death takes time and posting suspected overdose cases is irresponsible.

"I will not as county executive allow false information to be given out. I won't, but we will give you everything you need as long as it's accurate, as we possibly can," she said.

Opponent Jason Garnar says it is a health risk when the public isn't notified.

When asked why the county hasn't issued a public health warning, Broome County Mental Health Commissioner Arthur Johnson said, "The warning is already out there. Don't do heroin."

Garnar responded in a statement saying: "If the only response to the heroin epidemic from Debbie Preston's administration is 'Don't do heroin,' Broome County is in a lot of trouble."