By July 2020, suspected and confirmed opioid-related deaths exceeded 2019 total confirmed deaths
The Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force and invited officials provided an update on opioid-related overdose deaths in Erie County on Tuesday, along with a warning for the public on the deadly dangers of fentanyl and cocaine.
From a peak of 301 deaths in 2016, Erie County experienced three successive years of decreasing opioid-related overdose deaths, with 156 recorded in 2019. However, through July 23, 2020, the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office has confirmed 44 opioid-related overdose deaths, with another suspected 127 cases pending confirmation.
Through toxicology testing, the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office has found an increasing percentage of these deaths are associated with fentanyl and cocaine, from just over 15% in 2016 to 45% of closed cases for 2020.
“These deaths are happening in every part of our community, and all age groups, and they are preventable,” County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said. “We want people who are struggling with substance use to remember: You are not alone in your struggle. There are resources through the county and our many community partners that are here and ready to help you.”
“Many drugs available on the street – like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine – contain fentanyl, which is a potent opioid that can stop your breathing in a heartbeat,” Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein said. “Many people consider cocaine a party drug with few long-term side effects. Unfortunately, you have no way to know what exactly is in that white powder. By the time fentanyl reaches your brain, it can be too late.”
“The disruption from COVID-19 has led to sense of anxiety and feelings of disconnection from social supports and safety net providers for many people,” Commissioner of Mental Health Mark O’Brien said. “We want to encourage people that, while they are maintaining that physical distance from others, there are ways to remain connected socially to family, friends, treatment providers and self-help resources.”
“We will continue to work with our partners in law enforcement and the Opioid Epidemic Task Force to stop these deadly drugs from entering our communities and to prevent overdose deaths. My office provided asset forfeiture money to encourage people to anonymously report opioid dealers, and I encourage anyone with information to contact Crime Stoppers Western New York,” Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said.
Burstein explained, “A new population of overdose victims has emerged in the COVID-19 pandemic. A greater number of overdose death victims are professional, middle-aged, and found at home alone. These circumstances have forced our department to adapt to new and challenging conditions to conduct outreach. And at our next task force meeting on Aug. 3, our partners in this effort – community providers, medical professionals, law enforcement, peers and family members – will share these new approaches.”
The next Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 3, via WebEx.
Erie County said:
√ If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder, please make sure you carry Narcan (naloxone) at all times.
√ Free Narcan kits are available from ECDOH staff outreach events throughout the county, and weekly at the St. John Kanty Church parking lot in Buffalo from 4-7 p.m. Thursdays.
√ If you are seeking help, the Buffalo and Erie County Crisis Services addiction hotline is available 24/7 at 716-831-7007. You can also walk into any hospital emergency room and enroll in “Buffalo MATTERS” to access MAT (medication assisted treatment) on the spot if medically eligible.
√ This spring, ECDOH put in place a “Text for Narcan” program to expand access to free Narcan kits. Erie County residents can text 716-225-5473 and we will provide you with Narcan, no questions asked.
√ Free emergency Narcan boxes are available for businesses and organizations to install in accessible areas in their facility. ECDOH will resupply these boxes with free Narcan kits as needed.
√ And, as in-person Narcan use trainings have been disrupted this year, ECDOH has produced a short video on “How to Save a Life with Narcan.” Watch the eight-minute training on the Erie County YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8V3JkJ2sZw.