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Erie County will acknowledge Black Balloon Day with memorial display, remembrance event


Mon, Feb 26th 2024 10:35 am

March 3 at Buffalo History Museum 

√ Says Narcan is a lifesaver; know how and when to use it to reverse an opioid overdose  

Submitted by the Erie County Department of Health

On March 3, the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) and the Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force will transform the Buffalo History Museum with a Black Balloon Day memorial display (1-4 p.m.) to honor those taken by the opioid epidemic.

This event aims to promote awareness in our community by recognizing the loved ones that we have lost to the ongoing crisis by symbolizing the void left by the loss of a family member, friend, community member to opioids.

Nearly every day, someone in Erie County loses their life to opioid overdose. The pandemic brought about a surge in these deaths, which have remained alarmingly high. The year 2023 was a record-breaking year for overdose deaths, with nearly 400 confirmed or suspected fatalities. Many illicit stimulant drugs like cocaine are now mixed with fentanyl, a key factor leading to the rise in drug-related deaths. Fentanyl is commonly mixed with cocaine, often without the user’s knowledge.

“We recorded the county’s highest total ever for opioid overdose deaths in 2023. Historically, overdose events begin to rise in March and continue to climb through the warmer months,” Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein said. “These are completely preventable tragedies, and one tool for that is to know how and when to use Narcan to reverse an opioid overdose, and to have Narcan with you as part of a standard first aid kit. During an overdose, you can be the help until help arrives.”

The Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force is in the process of evaluating its structure and will be reorganizing its workgroups during February and March.

“The defining features of the opioid epidemic have shifted since our task force started in 2016,” said Stephen White, interim director of the ECDOH Office of Harm Reduction. “We are taking time to refocus and reenergize our efforts, especially as we move ahead with projects supported by opioid settlement funding.”

While the highest number of fatal overdoses are reported in the City of Buffalo, the crisis touches every corner of Erie County. More overdoses happen than we would expect in rural areas, considering their small populations. People of every age group are at risk, but the likelihood of fatal overdose increases with age, and the average age of those dying from overdoses has been rising in recent years.

Erie County has also seen an increase in non-fatal opioid overdoses over time. Ensuring access to Narcan, especially during peak periods, can make a significant difference in preventing fatal outcomes. Narcan can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose if administered promptly, offering a critical, lifesaving intervention.

If you have a loved one who has been lost to an opioid overdose and would like to have them included in this remembrance event, a photo can be shared through the following link: https://www3.erie.gov/health/form/days-of-remembrance-registration. Photos received will be incorporated into the Black Balloon Day event on March 3.

We want to keep you alive. Reduce your risk of overdose and death if you choose to use opioids, cocaine, or other risky substances.

√ Seek treatment. Local hospital emergency departments can connect patients to immediate medication assisted treatment, a long-term care provider and a peer who can help with every stage of recovery. Ask for NY MATTERS. 

√ Seek support. The Buffalo & Erie County Addictions Hotline is available 24/7 with referrals for individuals and their families. Call 716-831-7007. 

√ Carry Narcan. Know how and when to use it. Text 716-225-5473 with your address to have Narcan mailed to you for free. Allow five to seven business days for processing and shipping. Other sources of Narcan (naloxone) listed at www.erie.gov/narcan

√ 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 or 877-696-1996). 

√ Test your drugs. Test for fentanyl and xylazine even if you think it is cocaine or another substance that is not an opioid. Free test strips are available from the Erie County Department of Health. Call 716-858-7695. 

√ Bars, restaurants and other public venues can order free materials from ECDOH. To place an order, visit bit.ly/ECDOHNarcan or call 716-858-7695.

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