GUEST COLUMN: You are not alone: Preventing opioid overdose in Erie County during COVID-19

Modified: August 14, 2020 12:37pm

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Erie County has been coordinating its response to the Covid-19 pandemic for nearly five months, and our community’s continued efforts to flatten the curve are working. The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH), led by Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein, has done yeoman’s work to control this new virus in our region. While we have been navigating the challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, ECDOH has continued its efforts to address the opioid epidemic, which has cost too many lives in our region.

Covid-19 led to a heightened sense of anxiety for some people and stay-at-home recommendations created a feeling of social alienation for many others. And for people who are struggling with substance use, these conditions can make that struggle even harder. Opioid use disorder takes an enormous emotional and physical toll on the person as well their friends and family. The most important thing for residents struggling with substance abuse to know is that you are not alone. Opioid use disorder is a chronic disease of the brain, and reaching our for help is a positive step to begin managing the disease.

The Opiate Epidemic Task Force has developed a number of strategies and resources to prevent overdose deaths since its inception. Our Erie County Addiction Hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 716-831-7007. ECDOH offers free emergency Narcan (naloxone) kits boxes to businesses, which can be resupplied for free when needed. You can save a life by having access to Narcan and knowing how to administer it in the event of an overdose. And during this pandemic, the task force has created new approaches for its community outreach. Residents can text 716-225-5473 for free Narcan kits, no questions asked. ECDOH is on site at the St. John Kanty Church parking lot in Buffalo each Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m.

If you have no choice but to use alone, reach out to “Never Use Alone,” a confidential phone number and phone app.

While we have made progress in reducing the number of opioid-related overdose deaths since a peak of 301 deaths in 2016, this year’s trends are concerning. In 2019, Erie County experienced 156 opioid-related deaths, but as of July we have seen 44 with 127 cases still pending. Even more troubling is the number of cases – 45% in 2020 so far – involving cocaine and fentanyl.

Increasingly, we are seeing drugs like heroin and cocaine laced or “cut” with fentanyl. Cocaine is especially dangerous because it is wrongly seen as a benign “party drug” that doesn’t have the potential to cause an overdose. However, fentanyl can kill; by the time it reaches the brain it could be too late.

I want all residents who are struggling and their loved ones to know that help is available from Erie County and the Opiate Epidemic Task Force: call our 24 hour confidential hotline at 716-831-7007 to talk to a trained professional and start down your road to recovery today.