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The Opioid Epidemic in Erie County is Real

Girl shooting heroinWe’ve all seen or heard the headlines on the local news. Deaths and overdoses from heroin and other opioids are on the rise in Erie County. How bad is it?

  • County health department officials are still crunching the numbers from last year, but they predict that when all cases are confirmed, the total in Erie County could be nearly 300 deaths from overdose for 2015. That’s double from the year before. If the opiate antidote Narcan had not been administered more than 450 times, the death count could have been five times higher.
  • According to Michael Baumgartner, a paramedic supervisor for the Town of Tonawanda police department, the Town is seeing high numbers of drug overdoses, 35 in the first four months of the year alone. Nine of those people died.
  • The vice president of Lancaster Ambulance says that his medics are responding to an average of six overdoses per week.
  • Twenty-three people in Erie County died as a result of opiate overdoses during an 11-day period in February alone.

Yes, In Your Back Yard
For anyone who thinks this is happening elsewhere, not in their neighborhoods, Jodie Altman of Kids Escaping Drugs points out that the problem is everywhere. “[The kids at our 62-bed campus] are ages 12 to 20. It’s no longer somebody standing in an alley with dirty clothes and dirty teeth, it’s kids. It’s the average American kids walking down the street, walking through the mall.”

It’s also not just kids, and it’s not just city dwellers, either. Of the 201 confirmed deaths in the county last year, County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale R. Burstein released statistics showing that 174 of those people were white; fourteen were black, and ten were Hispanic. And while 90 were city residents, 80 lived in the suburbs and 17 lived in rural communities. Their ages ranged from merely 17 years old to 83, with an average age of 38.

What is Being Done?
New York State government and public health officials, local doctors, and concerned citizens are looking for help on how to better fight the opioid crisis. They are looking into changes to the state’s drug abuse tracking system, better training for physicians, and preparing new laws. Burstein wants to see less prescribing of painkillers and more clinical training for health care providers in the early stages, such as medical students, dental students, and nurse practitioner and physician assistant students. She also believes that more doctors need to be certified to prescribe suboxone, a medication used to wean addicts off of opiates. Finally, according to Dennis C. Galluzzo, executive director of the Pharmacists’ Association of Western New York, “There has to be an increase in programs that prevent addiction and help addicts with treatment. Addiction is a disease just like alcoholism.”

At Horizon, we are on the front lines of battling addiction in our community every day. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to prescription pain pills, heroin or other opiates, please call us immediately at (716) 831-1800.