BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — On Jan. 19, the Erie County executive, district attorney and health commissioner highlighted a spike in opioid overdose deaths early in 2017, which started off with one person dying every day the first 19 days.
Twenty one days later, the death toll rose to 55 in the first 40 days, which shows the deadly epidemic is getting worse before it gets better. And county officials are betting on the trends slowing.
The numbers of overdose deaths have steadily been on the rise since 2012, with a massive spike from 2014 to 2015. In 2016, 256 people are confirmed to have died from opioid overdoses, but that number will increase.
The number of people dying is happening at such a rate, there’s a backlog at the medical examiner’s office, leaving 68 cases still pending for 2016.
All of this is happening as the county’s Opioid Taskforce is in full swing with a network of addiction centers, a 24-hour hotline and even some law enforcement agencies who are getting people help instead of throwing them in jail.
The biggest cause of this recent spike in deaths, according to county Health Commissioner Gale Burstein, is the increasing use of of the powerful narcotic, Fentanyl, which is cut with heroin and other opioids.
And even that substance is a moving target,” Burstein said.
“Some of the batches, parts may have mostly heroin, parts may have heroin and Fentanyl and parts may have mostly Fentanyl,” Burstein said. “And when somebody buys a bag or a pouch of white powder, there’s no way to know what the true contents are. And just a few grains of Fentanyl can kill you. It’s 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin itself in some cases.”
Burstein says the health department also saw spikes like these early last year as well, so it could be a seasonal issue.
But the taskforce will continue its work, and even roll out additional programs to help curb addiction this spring, Burstein said.
Meanwhile, the 24-hour hotline is seeing increased use, she said. The number is (716) 831-7007.