Erie County’s effort to combat opioid addiction and overdose is on track to get a more than $3.4 million boost from the federal government.
A three-year, $999,999 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice is one of three awards earmarked for Erie County beginning in 2019. The grant will help Erie County’s health department establish an opioid overdose review board similar to those that have been used in severely-impacted locales like West Virginia. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the board will “do the hard analysis to determine how an individual got addicted in the first place.” That information will be used to determine how local communities can help prevent addiction in the first place.
The Department of Justice will also award the county $854,233 over three years to implement a new risk-assessment program for individuals referred to criminal probation.
Probation department Commissioner Brian McLaughlin said the funds will give his department the opportunity to get ahead of the problem, rather than just respond to issues.
“Everybody that comes in that’s assigned probation will now be screened for drug addiction and for opioid abuse,” said McLaughlin. “Those that are especially high risk will be put onto an intensive supervision opioid case load. It will be lower numbers. It will be capped at 30. There will also be a peer navigator assigned, full-time, to those people to help them find their way through the system.”
A third grant for $1.6 million over four years is being awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The money is aimed at expanding the county’s overdose reversal training program and making the drug naloxone – more commonly known by the brand name NARCAN – available in underserved areas. It is also intended to expand pilot programs in emergency rooms to prescribe Buprenorphine for opioid recovery treatment, and connect individuals suffering from addiction with peer navigators who have dealt with it themselves. Both programs have been shared across the eight counties of Western New York.
“We basically took it on our own to fund programs that we knew would help people in other counties because the drug dealers, the pharmaceutical companies, they don’t care about the dotted lines on a map regarding Niagara County, Erie County, Chautauqua County. And, often, people would traverse county lines to get their legal drugs, or illegal drugs,” said Poloncarz.
Congressman Brian Higgins, who helped secure the grants, said they are extremely competitive. He noted that the example of an already-in-place infrastructure to fight the opioid epidemic is part of the reason Erie County’s applications were successful.
“I think the statistics in Erie County relative to a reduction in opioid deaths is an indicator that the federal government has great confidence,” said Higgins.
Those statistics appear to be on track for a second year of decline in opioid-related deaths. The county saw a peak in 2016 with 301 cases. The following year saw 50 fewer, and this year only 105 cases have been confirmed with 78 more suspected.
On Tuesday, Poloncarz told reporters the grants were so “hot off the press” that they wouldn’t be included in his 2019 budget proposal, which was in the midst of printing that afternoon. The final copies will be distributed to the public on Friday.
But before the money hits Erie County’s coffers, the county legislature has to approve it. Poloncarz expects members of the legislature will do so, and add the funding into their amended budget.