At the end of October, Elma Town Hall was illuminated with 149 paper bag lanterns, each one representing a local resident who died from a heroin overdose this year. The image was poignant. Just a few weeks later on the evening of the County Legislature’s annual budget hearing, 180 lanterns were placed at the Rath Building. More lives lost.
The number of deaths from overdoses is rising at an alarming rate. Government, agencies, clinics, families and friends are all discussing this issue, attempting to raise awareness, and proposing short-term and long-term solutions. I applaud the families who have found strength to discuss their losses in hope of saving the lives of others.
The night of the budget public hearing, we heard emotional testimony from residents who are advocating for change. I want to thank those speakers for attending the hearing, and sharing their stories. As a result, the Legislature will be holding an informational meeting early in the New Year on the growing heroin epidemic. The meeting will focusing on many of the points made at the budget hearing, as well as ways Erie County can aide in the fight to stem the tide.
I am happy that efforts are being made to finally address the issue, but the problem is so large that there isn’t a single answer. Just recently, I read a proposal from New York City for “supervised injection facilities” to help prevent heroin overdoses. The reaction to this proposal has been mixed. Whether you support such a proposal or not, I think just the thought of it elicits a strong reaction on either side. It is truly sad that this problem has become so widespread locally.
On the local level, the Legislature approved two new deputies to the Sheriff’s Narcotics Unit, assigned to remove heroin, opioids and other the drugs from our streets. Also, the county has held several training sessions to allow residents to carry and administer Narcan, which is used on a person who is overdosing. Narcan has already saved numerous lives throughout Erie County. You can find more information about upcoming training sessions at www.erie.gov/health.
It’s always a good reminder to remove unnecessary drugs, both over-the-counter and prescription, from your home to help combat abuse and addiction. The Erie County Sheriff’s Office has more than 20 sites throughout the county where citizens can dispose of prescription medications and used needles 24/7 into secure drop boxes. These locations include, ECC South in the lobby, Colden, Elma and Marilla town halls.
I look forward to the Legislature’s informational meeting on the heroin epidemic, and hearing from those with experience who can help lead the county in addressing the issue. Sadly, in the time between this column being printed and the Legislature’s meeting, several more lives will most likely be lost to overdose. Health officials predicted that by year’s end, the total lives lost would be near 270. Something must be done.
I encourage anyone who is looking for assistance to please contact my office at 858-8922 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.