After months of preparation, Erie County's Opioid Epidemic Task Force formally rolled out a three-part campaign Monday designed to provide easier connections between addicts and the treatment programs that can help them. It didn't take long for some of those services to get busy.
The task force, ordered several months ago by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, announced three initiatives had officially launched at 8 a.m. on August 1. One of the initiatives is a Crisis Peer Response Team, which will work with addicts, especially those who have survived overdoses, to navigate through the treatment system.
Also launched was an addiction hotline, open 24 hours a day and seven days a week. A new phone number was introduced Monday for this service, 716-831-7007.
"As of noon we've already had 32 calls that have come into the hotline," said Jessica Pirro, executive director of Crisis Services, a partner in the hotline. "It's really been around information referral, and some information on outpatient services and inpatient services. People are using it."
The third initiative that kicked off Monday morning was Rapid Evaluation for Appropriate Placement, or REAP. Introduced by police in Gloucester, Massachusetts last year, REAP encourages addicts and their families to come directly to police for assistance getting into the appropriate treatment program.
Six area law enforcement agencies now have REAP programs underway: Amherst, Buffalo, East Aurora, Erie County Sheriff's Office, Town of Tonawanda and Niagara Falls.
"Basically, anybody that wishes to can come into a police station and tell them they want help," said Town of of Tonawanda Police Chief Jerome Uschold. "We will, within some parameters, contact the opiate addiction hotline and make arrangements for them to go into counseling, whether it be inpatient or outpatient."
Uschold said those who approach police for help who possess drugs can have them disposed of by police. Unless there's an outstanding warrant, Uschold continued, the addict will not be charged for possession of the drugs he or she turns in. Additionally, if the person owns a legal firearm, police will store it for them.
The number of opioid-related deaths in Erie County is higher this year than last, according to health officials.
"As of July 28, there have been 224 confirmed or suspected overdose deaths related to opioids in Erie County," said Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein, who added that the county is averaging around seven fatal overdoses per week.