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'Hopefully people will see this as a wake up call,' Erie County overdose deaths linked to cocaine

Posted at 6:26 PM, Jul 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-28 18:26:33-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Leaders in Erie County are warning about a continued increase in the number of overdose deaths, but this time, there's a new trend.

"We're seeing a new population of people who are victims in our overdose deaths...people in their 40s, 50s and even 60s, they're professional and they're found at home alone," said Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County Health Commissioner.

The Erie County Health Department says so far this year, 44 people have died from opioid overdoses and another 127 deaths are pending. If those deaths are confirmed as overdoses, that would bring us to 171 opioid deaths as of July 28. Compared to 156 opioid-related deaths in Erie county for all of last year.

Erie County Opioid Related Deaths Chart
Erie County Opioid Related Deaths Chart

The trend is linked to the pandemic, according to Burstein. People are home alone and using drugs to cope, specifically cocaine. Much of that cocaine is cut with fentanyl, leading to the rise in deaths, according to County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

"We know now that cocaine is being spiked with fentanyl to the point that some cocaine is all fentanyl and it's basically an instantaneous death for the individual who ingests it," said Poloncarz.

When overdose deaths were at a peak in 2016, 15% of them were associated with fentanyl and cocaine. In 2020 so far, that mixture makes up nearly half of all deaths.

Erie County opioid related deaths associated with fentanyl and cocaine
Erie County opioid related deaths associated with fentanyl and cocaine

"Hopefully people will see this as a wake up call. That dosage you may take today could be your last," said Mark O'Brien, Commissioner of Mental Health.

Because of this, Dr. Burstein says Erie County's opiate task force will be changing it's approach when dealing with these issues.

"So we want everybody to carry Narcan whenever they can. The COVID is still here, we still have to wear our masks. Our opioid epidemic is still here, we still have to be armed with our NARCAN," said Burstein.

There are also many treatment facilities in our area that can help, but many are worried about a 31% cut in funding.

"the resources are there right now, but they've already been suffering, they've already adapted to the COVID crisis, but we do not want to see any services suffer right now, so really the time for advocacy is right now," said O'Brien.

County executives are calling on the federal government for help. The task force will meet Monday, August 3 to discuss changes. You can text 716-225-5473 for Narcan.

Buffalo NA helpline: 716-878-2316
Erie County Addiction helpline: 716-831-7007
Niagara County Crisis Services: 716-285-3515
Chautauqua County Crisis Line: 1-800-724-0461
Cattaraugus County Addiction Helpline: 1-866-851-5033
Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse (GCASA): 585-815-1800
Wyoming County Crisis Line: (585) 283-5200