(WKBW) — Opioid overdoses – a crisis raging on during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"People who were already struggling. Their situations are just exasperated by this pandemic," Senior Director at Evergreen Health Services, Emma Fabien, said.
In March, Erie County saw 28 suspected opioid overdose deaths. That’s seven times more than the average.
"The people that we’re talking about that we’re losing is a different population. We’re talking about a working population that is unemployed or at home. The checks and balances that were in place aren’t there. No one is looking for them because they didn’t show up for work," Director of the Erie County Opioid Taskforce, Cheryll Moore, said.
Acting Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti said before this year, there was a decrease in overdose calls. But that number skyrocketed since January, including a 185% increase in March.
"A huge spike like that I would equate that to people that are stressed, financial situations, they’re relapsing, having hardships facing their addictions," Filicetti said.
"I think it’s because people are alone. There’s nobody there," Moore said in response to an increase in suspected overdose deaths.
The message remains united: there is still help. Even during this time of isolation, you are not alone.
"We’ve really been getting the message out there that people need to have naloxone in their homes. They need to check on their family members, check on your friends. If you haven’t heard from somebody, speak to them," Moore said. She said outreach continues. Telehealth is an important tool in this fight as programs like “Never use alone," Buffalo Matters" and the 24/7 addiction hotline remain open.
"Despite the physical distancing, we still want people to know that their life is valuable and there is some help that we can undoubtedly link them with," Fabian said.
Evergreen Health is also open, operating crucial services like the syringe exchange program and counseling.
“I don’t know if people feel because they’re secluded in their homes and they’re not getting a lot of social interaction, that help is still not available. It is," Acting Sheriff Filicetti said. He pledges to continue outreach for his residents.
Chautauqua County also saw an increase in reported overdoses. The health department is attributing the increases to "the presence of Fentanyl" and isolation and stress coming from COVID-19 isolation orders.
"The per month average in 2019 was 19 overdoses.
· March 1-31, 2019: 24 overdoses/3 fatal
· March 1-31, 2020: 45 overdoses/3 fatal*
· April 1-30, 2019: 21 overdoses/2 fatal
· April 1-22, 2020: 14 overdoses/4 fatal*
*suspected – awaiting toxicology results"
"We can’t forget the other health issues -- one of our biggest ones," Moore said.
If you know someone currently abusing drugs or are struggling yourself, call these crisis hotlines for help:
- Chautauqua County Crisis Hotline, 800-724-0461
- Erie County Crisis Services Hotline, 716-834-3131
- Niagara County Crisis Services Hotline, 716-285-3515
- Crisis Textline: Text “Help” to 741-741
- Mental Health Association, 716-661-9044: peer coaches and link to services
- Evergreen Health Services, 716-541-0678: naloxone training and kits, Syringe Exchange Program