Proposal for extra $1 million to fight heroin addiction in Erie County

Posted at 6:40 PM, Apr 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-06 18:40:47-04

A recent surge in suspected opioid related overdose deaths in Erie County has lawmakers scrambling for answers. 17 people have died from suspected overdoses in Erie County since March 29.

"Losing 7 people in 24 hours is just insanity," Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke said Thursday. "And even though we're trying extremely hard we're not doing enough."

Burke, a Democrat, is calling for an additional $1 million in funding for the Department of Health for its efforts to battle opioid and heroin addiction. The money would come from the county fund balance. He wants to see the money go toward additional beds to ensure anybody looking for help is able to get it.

"It hits home and eventually we all know people who have suffered or succumbed," Burke said. "It's personal to, I think, most people in Erie County because so many people have lost their lives because of this."

Burke introduced a resolution to the legislature that's scheduled to be discussed during a Health and Human Services Committee meeting on April 20. At that meeting, committee members will also be discussing current efforts to battle addiction and whether they're actually working.

Chairperson Lynne Dixon, an independent, says certain programs, like the county's addiction hotline, REAP and Angels initiatives aren't as effective as they had planned.

"We're getting some feedback that it's not working as well as some of us would hope," Dixon said, explaining the programs will be given more time to develop. "But at some point we have to reevaluate."

According to Dixon, the addiction hotline only averages between 6 and 7 calls per day, but the County is funding three operators and a supervisor.

Dixon says she wants to know more before supporting Burke's resolution. She's all for increasing funding to fight addiction, but wants to be sure it will be spent effectively.

"Is the money best spent on beds?" she asked. "Is the money best spent on some other sort of outreach?  How would we spend the money?  I think that's a question we have to dig deeper."