GUEST EDITORIAL: Erie Joins National Effort to Address Opioid Abuse

Modified: December 12, 2016 3:45pm

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The struggle against opioid abuse has been in the news throughout 2016, with overdose fatalities reported seemingly every day. Here in Erie County our Opioid Epidemic Task Force, created through my Executive Order last January, has brought together community experts from social service agencies, law enforcement, the health care industry, and members of victims’ families to share experiences, recommend solutions and strengthen our community response to the issue. One product of the Task Force that has had a noticeable effect is the creation of a 24/7 Addictions Hotline for individuals and families needing immediate information or support to help them break the cycle of abuse. The Hotline number is 831-7007, and it is providing help and hope every hour, every day.

On the national level, this year I have been honored to serve with colleagues from across the country on a national Joint Task Force to identify local policies and practices that reduce opioid abuse and related fatalities. 11 members of the 22-member Task Force are members of the National Association of Counties, while the other 11 members represent the National League of Cities. I am the sole representative from New York State, joining elected officials from 18 other states in the Task Force. During our meetings a number of innovative ideas, plans, and practices that encompassed approaches from across the country were presented as we developed a Joint Report on fighting opioid abuse in our communities. That report, “A Prescription for Action: Local Leadership in Ending the Opioid Crisis”, is now complete and we are moving ahead with plans to present our findings to Congress.

Consisting of four sections and recognizing that no one county, city, or municipality can handle an issue of this size by itself, the report offers facts and figures on opioid abuse in the U.S., provides recommendations for local leaders as well as state & federal officials, and provides numerous informational resources. I am proud to say that many of the recommendations for local governments to follow have already been implemented in Erie County, and two of our practices were recommended in the final report as models to follow. Also included in the report is an Erie County effort to train more health care professionals, such as licensed practical nurses, to properly administer medications such as buprenorphine and naltrexone. These are front-line drugs in our struggle and are essential to treat patients dealing with substance abuse disorders, and now our local efforts are included in a bigger, national push to stop this scourge.

It is a push that must be joined with every resource we have. In 2015, 257 Erie County residents died from a heroin or opioid overdose, and as I write this, 230 Erie County families have suffered the loss of a loved one because of an opioid overdose in 2016 alone. Every day in our country, 580 people use heroin for the first time, and 78 people die from an opioid-related overdose. We must act together, we must act now, and Erie County is leading in the nationwide effort to end the scourge of the opioid epidemic.