August 8, 2023
Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) – Erie County is on pace for more opioid-related deaths than ever before. The Erie County Opioid Task Force said 245 individuals have died of opioid overdoses as of the start of August.
“The numbers are certainly disappointing,” said Dr. Joshua Lynch, a member of the task force and Associate Professor of Emergency and Addiction Medicine at the University at Buffalo. “We had done very well between 2017 and 2019. Then we saw an uptick as COVID progressed. And as people saw COVID start to lessen, many expected opioid overdose deaths to follow suit. But unfortunately, the opioid epidemic continues to evolve.”
In 2016, when opioid overdoses became a public health crisis, most of those impacted were under the age of 30.
In 2023, the age range of 30-39 represents the largest group of overdose fatalities. But the percentage of people who have died in their 40s, 50s and 60s is increasing. 43% of the deaths this year occurred in people age 50 and older.
“We’re still trying to understand the demographics of the epidemic, but we are focused on the involvement of fentanyl contaminated cocaine,” noted Lynch.
“It appears that many of the victims may never have known that they were exposed to fentanyl in their cocaine.” Cocaine is showing up in 81% of deaths, which is twice the number from 2021.
Public health leaders have had to change their response to get a handle on it.
“When it comes to people using cocaine and other stimulants, one strategy is to urge people to test it with fentanyl testing strips. This allows people to take a small amount of drug and test it to see if there’s fentanyl in it. If there is, the recommendation is not to use it. Or, use with someone. Never use alone. Have Narcan available and be ready to call 9-1-1.”
Narcan is a life saving drug that is widely available today.
“I can’t imagine where we would be today without Narcan or naloxone. It has saved a countless number of lives and is often under reported. The numbers would be exponentially worse if we hadn’t saturated the area with easy to access Narcan.”
Has Narcan become a safety net and only encouraged people to use? Lynch said that is not what he has seen.
“We encourage people to seek treatment. There are plenty of options available for treatment. But if people are going to use, never do it alone, have Narcan available and be ready to call 9-1-1.”
Lynch said there are both inpatient and outpatient treatment options. One of the easiest way to access those resources, is through a program called the “Matters Network.” It can be accessed online at MattersNetwork.org
and a free app. Someone can be referred into treatment while at a hospital.
Also in Western New York, there is an emergency 24-hour telemedicine assessment hotline. That can be accessed by calling 765-MATTERS. That allows for a 24/7 emergency medicine evaluation and your choice of treatment organizations for follow up.
Lynch added, that many treatment organizations have stepped up and are willing to see patients that have no insurance.