Spike in opioid overdose deaths within the past week has raised concerns with ongoing epidemic
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined Tuesday by Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York William J. Hochul Jr. and Drug Enforcement Administration Resident Agent In Charge John Flickinger to issue an emergency warning regarding the opiate crisis in Erie County. This followed the revelation there were nine opioid overdose-related deaths over a seven-day period.
"Having been updated with information about a recent spike in opioid overdose deaths within the past week, we felt it was important to address this issue today and come together as a community to issue an emergency warning for what has become a serious health crisis," Poloncarz said. "The region's epidemic of opioid abuse is something that cannot be ignored."
Last month the county executive issued an executive order to create the Erie County opiate epidemic task force, a group comprised of over 100 individuals from local human service agencies, law enforcement, government and the private sector who are serving on seven different committees dedicated to coordinating a community response to the region's opioid addiction problem.
"Opioid addiction in Erie County is a public health crisis and, based on the latest information we have obtained in the past few days about the uptick in opioid overdose deaths, we feel strongly about gathering today and issuing this emergency warning," Burstein said. "We have been consistently informing the public about the many dangers associated with using opiate-based drugs, but to have nine deaths in the past week shows that the information is still not being comprehended by everyone."
"Despite sounding the alarm regarding the dangers of opiate-based drugs for nearly three years, today's report of nine deaths in seven days means that the message has still not fully penetrated," Hochul said. "In the past, we have likened such drugs to rat poison, and the use of them as a form of Russian roulette. Today, let us finally recognize that opiate-based drugs are killers, and that those who illegally distribute them are deserving of the most substantial punishment available in law."
"Heroin traffickers are not chemists, nor is there such a thing as a 'safe' batch of heroin," said DEA Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt. "Our communities need to be aware of the dangers of heroin, especially the practice of mixing heroin and fentanyl, which can lead to fatal overdoses. DEA urges communities to increase the awareness of the deadly dangers lurking within heroin glassines."