Erie County joins partners in sharing important warnings to prevent deadly overdoses and save lives
Submitted by the Erie County Department of Health
Since May 13, the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office has recorded an alarming and tragic number of Erie County resident deaths with suspected cocaine and fentanyl involvement. Representatives from Erie County government and community partners joined forces on Thursday with a wholehearted appeal to the community: Stay alive; don’t trust your cocaine.
As of May 26, there were 42 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths in Erie County in 2022. Toxicology reports to confirm the presence of opioids and other substances can take several weeks; however, based on scene investigations, since May 13 at least 12 deaths had suspected cocaine and fentanyl involvement.
“This is a problem for our county, and as we have in the past, we are confronting it directly,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said. “Our team made great progress in decreasing the number of overall opioid overdose deaths from peak of 301 deaths in 2016 to 156 deaths in 2019. However, with increases in 2020 and 2021, we have to redouble our efforts. I want to thank our task force partners and elected officials who have joined us today, and who are with us in this battle we are waging against overdose deaths.”
Opioid-related overdoses caused 286 deaths in Erie County in 2021. Of those, 40% were associated with fentanyl and cocaine, part of a trend in Erie County past few years.
“Opioid overdoses happen everywhere in Erie County – this epidemic has affected each city, town or village,” Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein said. “Substance use disorder is a chronic disease of the brain, and our county’s strategy is to treat this as a public health issue – which it absolutely is. That means building on our secondary prevention tools – Narcan training and access, syringe access, fentanyl test strips, connections to medically assisted treatment (MAT) – and sharing these harm reduction resources aggressively.”
In the past week since an initial release on this topic, ECDOH has received 163 text requests for Narcan through its “Text for Narcan” program at 716-225-5473.
“Our messages about harm reduction have already resonated among local law enforcement, first responders and health care agencies,” Opiate Epidemic Task Force Director Cheryll Moore said.
She continued, “Having first responders trained and willing to carry Narcan, and linking people to immediate care at hospital emergency departments, are two examples of systems changes that have made a positive difference. This progress shows that our community has the ability to make major shifts in how we approach substance use disorder and the stigma around it.”
Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said, “As district attorney, I am focused on prosecuting the dealers who peddle these deadly drugs while providing help to those who are struggling with substance use disorder. We established the nation’s first Opioid Intervention Court to save lives by putting low-level criminal cases on hold to immediately connect people to treatment and other services. I warn the residents of Erie County that fentanyl-laced cocaine and other substances continue to be found in our communities. I strongly encourage anyone who is suffering from substance use disorder to seek help. I want to thank Erie County and the Department of Health for everything that they do to educate our residents about substance use disorder and overdose prevention.”
ECDOH started a program for bars, restaurants and other public establishments to order free harm reduction materials for their business. Take-out bags, coasters, removable window decals, emergency Narcan wall boxes and Narcan supplies can be ordered at no cost, with the hope and expectation that the business will use and display them in public areas and employee workspaces. Additional materials will be available this summer. Visit bit.ly/ECDOHNarcan for an order form or call 716-858-7695. Online ordering available soon.
Resources and Actions
Opioid use disorder and cocaine/fentanyl overdoses are complex issues, but the public health message is simple: We want to keep you alive. There are ways to reduce your risk of overdose and death if you choose to use opioids, cocaine or other risky substances.
√ Carry Narcan, and know how and when to use it.
√ Never use alone. Have Narcan and a friend with you who is not using drugs, or contact a service like Never Use Alone (neverusealone.com)
√ Test your drugs for fentanyl, even if you think it is cocaine or another substance that is not an opioid. Free test strips available from the Erie County Department of Health. Call 716-858-7695.
√ Seek support. The Buffalo & Erie County Addictions Hotline is available 24/7 with referrals for individuals and their families. Call 716-831-7007.
√ Seek treatment. Local hospital emergency departments can connect patients to immediate medication assisted treatment. Ask for NY Matters.
√ “Text for Narcan”: 716-225-5473
√ Request an Emergency Narcan Box for your business (online form)
√ Buffalo & Erie County Addiction Hotline: 716-831-7007