County opiate task force will meet to consider further steps
By Christian W. Peck
Niagara County Public Information Officer
Niagara County officials are taking the discovery of fentanyl-laced pills that resemble prescription oxycodone pills in Western New York seriously, pledging today to devise steps to deal with the new threat.
The information, revealed Thursday in a briefing by New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, comes as the county continues to implement steps to combat the presence of opiate-derived drugs in the Western New York region.
In a press conference announcing the interception of the fentanyl-laced blue pills, Schneiderman said
, "These poison pills are the latest troubling development in our state's opioid crisis. I want to warn strongly against taking any prescription drugs you did not get directly from the pharmacy yourself. A single fentanyl-laced pill can kill you. Please be safe and stay vigilant."
Two of the top officials dealing with the opioid crisis in Niagara County issued a pair of statements late this afternoon reacting to the information brought to them by Schneiderman.
Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek said: "There is a new threat to public safety in Niagara County: fentanyl-laced pills disguised as oxycodone. This is the latest version of the adulteration of illegal drugs that we are seeing.
"It is not uncommon for investigators to find people buying fentanyl or butyryl fentanyl when they believed they are purchasing heroin. There is grave concern that a user may be trying to stay away from heroin because of the ongoing threat that it is laced with fentanyl and turn to a pharmaceutically developed opiate like oxycodone hoping it is safer. Today we know that such a choice could be equally as fatal.
"If someone sells one of these counterfeit/adulterated pills and that seller knows they contain fentanyl and a death occurs as a result of an overdose, our office will consider manslaughter charges and prosecute the case to the fullest extent of law. If you know of fake medications or any illicit drug dealing in Niagara County, people can confidentially call the Niagara County drug task force at 439-4442 so that we can do our best to get these drugs off the streets and possibly save lives.
"We are calling for an emergency meeting of Niagara County OASIS to enhance our coordinated response to this threat."
Niagara County Legislator Rebecca Wydysh, R-Lewiston, chairwoman of the opiate addiction/overdose strategy implementation standing committee (OASIS), said: "Right now, let me be clear: If you think that fentanyl may have been ingested by someone, either accidentally or because they are a drug user, the only responsible thing to do is call 911. We have first-responders who are trained in dealing with opiates, with heroin, with overdoses, and with the unique and extra-deadly threat posed by fentanyl. There is no time to take a 'wait-and-see' approach with this poison on the streets.
"For those facing struggles with addiction, we want to reiterate our stance has always been, and remains 'There is help. There is hope.' Please consider calling crisis services at 285-3515 if you are in a non-emergency situation but need help.
"In the meantime, I will be contacting the members of the OASIS committee and working closely with the DA and our partners in law enforcement. We will set an emergency meeting in the coming days to review county and law enforcement agency policies, prosecutorial decision-making, and other factors impacting this crisis.
"We are giving this matter our fullest attention, and are grateful to the attorney general for highlighting what is both a public health threat and a new worry for our first-responders and our medical community."
The time and date of the emergency meeting will be announced through the Niagara County Public Information Office.