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Anti-addiction group says public health crisis linked to Erie County's opioid fight is far from over

Posted at 5:54 PM, Jul 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-30 17:54:17-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — In January of 2016, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz declared a public health crisis as the county faced an escalating opioid epidemic.

At a press conference on Monday, Poloncarz gave an update on the opiate epidemic.

"It is possible that if we continue on this trend, in 2020 the county executive would be declaring the public health crisis over," he said.

Poloncarz declared the public health crisis in 2016 after 301 people died of an opioid overdose in Erie County in one year.

Last year, that number dropped to 191. So far this year, the county said 49 people have died.

But setting a date to the end of the crisis has some advocates and experts concerned.

President of Save the Michaels, Avi Israel, said we're actually in for a long fight.

"I would caution everybody to slow down. And let's take it easy because the rate of addiction is really skyrocketing here in Erie County," said Israel.

Israel said the number of people in need of help can be overwhelming for a small organization like Save the Michaels.

"We have so far this year have transported over 650 people," he said.

He's also worried the organization's source of funding would dry out, as it relies on funding from Erie County.

Poloncarz said more than 25,000 first responders and citizens were trained in using Naloxone, the life-saving treatment to an overdose.

Israel said he gives credit to the county executive and the department of health for helping out and taking the initiative.

But he said there's more that can be done. For example when someone returns from a treatment facility, there's not always housing for them.

"We need to talk more about addiction as a legitimate disease," he said.