LANCASTER, N.Y. (WIVB) — Members representing different groups and agencies on the forefront of combating prescription drug abuse gathered Saturday to discuss the epidemic.
“It’s tragic we’re here doing these things,” said Rob Kent, the General Council for the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. “It’s good this group and others are bringing all the right parties to the table. That’s our best hope to stem this and to overcome it.”
Kent along with representatives from the Drug Enforcement Administration, healthcare field, the Attorney General and dozens of people who have had their lives impacted from prescription drug abuse were a part of the meeting.
This forum is coming as the Erie County Medicaid Inspector General releases his annual report, finding Hydrocodone as the most prescribed drug around the area.
The speakers began discussing who is at the foot of the growing epidemic.
“Unfortunately prescription drugs in your medicine cabinet are the number one way people wind up addicted to opiates,” said John Flickinger, the head of the Buffalo D.E.A.
“It lays at the feet of the those writing prescriptions – this epidemic,” said Julie Israel, whose son died from opioid addiction. “This is how this whole epidemic started with the prescriptions; this is where it came from.”
Julie and her husband, Avi, are two people trying to tackle this issue, looking at this epidemic and movement.
“If you think it cannot happen to you, you’re wrong,” said Avi. “Our mission is to educate everybody so you don’t end up like Julie and I with an empty chair at the table this holiday.”
There will be at least 170 extra, empty seats at tables this year. The county says through the first seven months, there were 171 deaths from opioid overdoses. Last year, there were 120 total. Officials anticipate the death toll total to double 2014’s by the end of the year.
Debra Smith will have an empty seat at her table this year.
“I don’t want another mother to feel the way I do today,” said Smith, whose son died from an overdose in September.
Smith says Nathaniel, 26, was an athlete and scholar. He was studying pre-med at Canisius when he sought help for kidney stones and was prescribed pain killers. He became addicted.
“I would like to prevent this and bring awareness to the fact this is a disease,” said Smith on why she is attending the forum. “This isn’t a choice. This isn’t something that these children or people intentionally do. This is a drive they have inside of themselves that I don’t think they willingly commit to but that their body or mind takes them to.”
Smith placed 173 luminary bags on the lawn of Lancaster High School outside of the forum, remembering the lives lost from opioid overdoeses during 2015, and adding two more for Michael Israel and a family friend who also overdosed. She holds back tears, talking about her son, who she says is her gift.
“Every parent should have a child like my Nathaniel,” said Smith, whose red-rimmed eyes shiftily look away, trying to compose herself. “He was a blessing. I’m so sorry he’s gone but I’m so grateful I had him.