Region’s heroin epidemic worsens

Death toll up to 118 in Erie County compared to 127 for all of 2014

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Lacie Boyea is the face of western New York’s worsening heroin epidemic.

“I want to live. I don’t want to die over a drug. I don’t want to kill myself,” said Boyea, 27, who is on her third attempt at treatment.

She’s been hooked for seven years and has tried desperately to get off

Now she’s really scared.

“I know at least five people I can think of right now that have passed away, family included.”

She’s especially afraid of fentanyl, the deadly synthetic painkiller that is showing up in local heroin supplies.

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John Flickinger, resident in charge, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Buffalo Office

“It’s definitely getting worse,” said John Flickinger, resident agent in charge, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Buffalo office.

Heroin isn’t new but what’s now on the streets is deadlier than ever before.

“Years ago while heroin on the street level would be 5 to 10 percent purity now it’s upwards of 50 percent purity,” said Flickinger.

RELATED | See a gallery of factoids on heroin’s deadly grip.

The DEA has traced the local heroin to South America and then to Mexico where the drug cartels cut it with the painkiller fentanyl to make the heroin even stronger.

“Synthetic fentanyl is approximately 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin and it’s deadly,” Flickinger said. “The equivalent of three to five grams of salt of fentanyl is a lethal dose.

“Mexican cartels are specifically targeting the Northeast and pushing more and more heroin into this area than they have ever done before.”

He says the cartels are making the heroin more potent and more addictive, especially for first time users who can snort it

Flickinger said the information collected by the DEA describes the worsening of the heroin epidemic.

The DEA says about 200 people are overdosing in Erie County every month, up from about 125 a month last year.

So far this year, 118 have died from heroin or opioid pill overdoses, according to the Erie County Health Department. Last year, 127 died. At this pace, officials expect that 270 will die by the end of this year.

The death toll could have been even higher.

Since last June through August, first responders in Erie County administered Narcan to 163 persons. Narcan, also known as Naloxone, is a medication that reverses the effects of heroin. Its use has been expanded because it is now available in spray form.

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Dr. Joshua Lynch, emergency physician, Millard Fillmore Suburban, DeGraff Memorial

“It’s very frustrating and discouraging for us to know that the problem is still growing,” said Dr. Joshua Lynch, emergency room physician at Millard Fillmore Suburban and DeGraff Memorial Hospitals where he is also the director of pre-hospital care.

“It doesn’t mean that any of us are going to stop but it certainly is hard.”

Lynch is also the medical director for the Amherst Police emergency response team and Mercy Flight. He works closely with first responders and has supplied Amherst volunteer fire companies with Narcan.

Lynch says local police and medical personnel are seeing a shift from abusing pills to injecting drugs like heroin with fentanyl.

“It’s becoming a much bigger problem because people can overdose on those medications very easily and they are fatal a lot of the time. Especially lately with the influx of pharmaceutical grade fentanyl into the Western New York area it turns the drug significantly more potent and causes death a lot easier,” Lynch said.

“So what we think is happening is that drug dealers who are selling to people are cutting it down, are mixing heroin with fentanyl to try to raise the potency so people get a more desirable high and unfortunately that is usually too much for people,” Lynch said.

First time users are also vulnerable, he added.

“Heroin is one of the few drugs that really can addict somebody the first time they use it,” said Lynch. “And that doesn’t have to be the purist kind. It can be regular old cut down heroin and the first time people use they are often addicted and they can’t stop which is really scary if you think about it.”

Flickinger said the epidemic is so rampant that the community needs to get involved. “It is an epidemic that is more than just enforcement,” Flickinger said. “Families, parents, educators have to get the message out that this isn’t a recreational drug that people can experiment with. It’s really like playing Russian roulette

“When people use heroin or are addicted to opiates it really could be the last time you use that drug because they are so deadly.”

Lacie Boyea, who is from Niagara Falls, is in rehab for the third time at Horizon Health Services in Buffalo so she can regain custody of her 2-year old daughter.

Her last treatment round ended in April. The day she walked about of treatment she used heroin.

“I pray.my attitude is totally different than last time,” Boyea said. To help her chances for success, she plans to participate in the agency’s residential program for continuing support.

“I need to be in a safe place still,” she said. “I need somebody to help me. I can’t help myself.”

Boyea also knows that she needs to succeed for herself.  “You can’t do it for anybody but yourself. I thought I could do it for my daughter. It didn’t work so I am here to do it for myself this time. She’s a motivator, obviously but I have to do it for myself.”

Every day, she fights heroin’s pull.

To get it, she stole, lied and cheated.

“But the worst was ultimately selling myself,” she said.

It’s a life she wants to leave behind.

“Every time you do it, it takes a chunk of your soul away.”

 

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