BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — Local leaders issued a warning about cocaine laced with fentanyl causing overdose deaths.
Erie County leaders say the number opioid deaths are climbing again.
The Erie County Medical Examiner's office reported 12 deaths in the last two weeks connected to fentanyl.
.@ECDOH @markpoloncarz @DAErieCountyNY announcing ME Office has recorded 12 deaths since May 13 with suspected cocaine & fentanyl. They will offer harm reduction recommendations. @WKBW pic.twitter.com/QvolvaildG— Eileen Buckley (@eileenwkbw) May 26, 2022
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn called it a “silent killer” during a news conference Thursday.
“There has been a silent killer in our community during COIVD,” stated Flynn.
Flynn says the COVID pandemic had a direct impact and it is getting worse due to cocaine laced with fentanyl.
“If you are a cocaine dealer and you are lacing your cocaine with fentanyl — you are going to be prosecuted to the fullest extent — by my office,” Flynn remarked. “And you will go to jail — it’s as simple as that.”
Flynn joined Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein and Cheryll Moore, director, Opiate Epidemic Task Force, Erie County.
“The bottom line here is that we want to keep Erie County residents alive — everybody needs to stay alive,” Dr. Burstein declared.
7 News asked Dr. Burstein how they are working to get the message across to the community not to trust cocaine sold on the streets.
“Cocaine right now is very dangerous because it's laced with fentanyl — it's not like the old cocaine that your grandmother used to use or your mom used to use. It's not from the '70s or '80s or 90s — this is really dangerous,” replied Dr. Burstein.
Already this year, there have been 42-confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths in the county.
“No one woke up one day and said — I think I'll be a drug addict — I’m doing this to make your life miserable — no one did that — people are sick. They have a chronic disease,” described Moore.
“Before I knew it I was just taking more and more and more and asking for higher doses and then I was out buying them on the street,” Rose Ann Valenti recalled.
Valenti tells me she started using pain medications after being diagnosed with L upus and other health conditions.
But she found a doctor who dealt with addiction medicine and pain management.
“I walked in one day expecting to get a higher dose or maybe a stronger medication or something and I walked out with a prescription of Suboxone and that's how I started my journey into recovery,” Valenti noted.
Abby Muck says she also used high doses of pain medication for about ten years before recovering. It all started after she had brain surgery and other health issues.
“I decided I had to do something. My doctor actually dropped me as a patient, so that was a kick in the butt too,” Muck remarked.
But Muck tells me she lost her boyfriend to an overdose.
“He took an anti-anxiety pill and it was pure fentanyl, so they do have counterfeit pills out there as well,” Muck said.
Both Muck and Valenti are now working as peer navigators with the health department's opiate epidemic task force to help others.
The county health commissioner is stressing the importance of using test strips to test the drugs and making sure Narcan is on hand.
“There are a lot of people that take the test strips and if they don’t, they decide to still use it. We're hoping they use just a little bit,” Muck explained.
Valenti says it is so important to test drugs for people using cocaine, crack, and other street drugs.
“We’re targeting more of the people who are using cocaine,” Valenti described. “They’re strictly cocaine users and they buy one bag and it has fentanyl in it and it takes one time for them to overdose and it’s a fatal overdose.”
In just the past week, the county says it has received 163-text requests for Narcan. You can text at 716-225-5473.
Erie County will also provide free Narcan, test strips, and other materials in the lobby of the Rath Building when it is open to the public.