Opioid overdose deaths decrease in Erie County

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — When compared to the previous year, there weren’t as many opioid overdose deaths in Erie County in 2017.

On Tuesday morning, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein gave an update on the opioid epidemic in the county.

“I’d like to think that we’re at least at the beginning of the end,” Poloncarz said. “It’s still going to take some time, a few more years to get back to the point where we were before the epidemic occurred.”

Last year, there were 233 confirmed opioid overdose deaths in Erie County, with 35 cases still pending.

This marks the first drop in opioid overdose deaths since 2013.

“Still, this is too many,” explained Burstein, “but we’ve started to bend the curve. We’re really one of the only jurisdictions in the country that can really say that at this point.”

2017’s number is a significant decrease from 2016, when 301 people died as the result of opioid overdoses, according to the Erie County Department of Health.

Here are the numbers of deaths from prior years:

  • 2012: 103
  • 2013: 101
  • 2014: 127
  • 2015: 256
  • 2016: 301

“It’s a beautiful thing that the opioid deaths are down,” said Stephen Fogarty. “It’s an unbelievable feat and it shows that it is working and that the hope and the message is being spread.”

Fogarty began using opioids about 10 years ago, but has been clean for more than three years. He’s a musician, who, under his stage name “Tw1tch”, uses his music to help others going through what he did, under his stage name

“It was a pleasant surprise. I say the word surprise because I talk to thousands of people.” Fogarty explained. “They’re trying to get into treatment centers. Treatment centers just don’t have the ability to get them beds. They don’t have the insurance coverage.”

Fogarty, Burstein, and Poloncarz all seem to agree that more work needs to be done.

“It’s important to focus on the fact that it’s going down, which means that we’re taking the right steps, and that if it spikes back up, it doesn’t mean that we’re losing progress.” Fogarty said. “It just means that we have to continue to work harder.”

In the next step of the county’s plan to fight the epidemic, new billboards will start appearing across the county this April. The feature a 24-hour help hotline.

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