County lawmakers differ on strategies to fight opioid crisis

May 19, 2017

Members of the Erie County Legislature continue to discuss a proposal to provide $1 million for efforts against an ongoing opioid addiction crisis. But at Thursday's Health and Human Services Committee meeting, it was clear that lawmakers are divided on how the money should be spent, and how soon it may be spent.

Last month, Legislator Patrick Burke proposed giving the health department $1 million to use as they see fit. Instead, he was frustrated Thursday afternoon as the Health and Human Services Committee discussed the notion of accepting Requests for Proposals to help define a spending plan.

Lawmakers and guests watch a video about heroin addiction during Thursday's Erie County Legislature Health and Human Services Committee meeting. A proposal to provide one million dollars to the Health Department for ongoing efforts against addiction remains under discussion.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Among those who spoke to lawmakers at the committee meeting were representatives of the Erie County Sheriff's Office, Mental Health Department and Crisis Services. Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein also appeared.

"The Health Commissioner said herself said 'we don't have a plan in place right now,'" said Legislator Lynne Dixon, who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee. "And so, we have to look at a number of different possibilities on how we might be able to use those funds."

Burke's frustration included the suggestion by one of his peers that a hotline offered by Crisis Services has been, in that lawmaker's opinion, inadequate. He also likened the ongoing discussion to micro-management by lawmakers who, as he sees it, should give the Health Department the ability to use the million dollars as they see fit.

"We had a committee discussion a month ago, and then they wouldn't move it for a vote," Burke said. "Then we had another committee discussion where we didn't talk about this at all. They're every two weeks, so there's gaps of time and every time they delay, it's another gap of time. I don't see the urgency."

The matter remains tabled for further discussion.