Erie County sees “light at the end of the tunnel” of opioid crisis

Jul 29, 2019

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Monday that his office is on track to declare the end of the opioid epidemic as a public health crisis as early as next year.

Poloncarz declared a public health crisis in 2016, a year in which 301 people died in opioid related deaths in Erie County. There have been 49 confirmed opioid related deaths so far in 2019 and the county expects to report a final number of around 100—a figure that mirrors the pre-crisis levels in 2012 and 2013.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz gives an update Monday about the public health crisis of opioid addiction and overdoses.
Credit Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News

“We have gone through the worst. There’s no doubt about it,” said Poloncarz. “We have gone through the worst of the opioid epidemic, and we do see the light at the end of the tunnel because of the hard work of so many people across our community.”

Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein said the decline in opioid related deaths is the result of both a significant decline in the amount of opioid prescriptions being filled and increased enrollment of individuals who already struggle with opioid addiction into medicine assisted treatment plans.

For example, hydrocodone-acetaminophen (a powerful opioid-containing painkiller) was the #1 prescribed drug and filled prescription in 2012 by Medicaid recipients in Erie County, according to the Erie County Office of the Medicaid Inspector General. By 2018, it dropped to the #10 on the list.

Dr. Burstein also credited partnerships with local law enforcement, first responders and other community stakeholders as a key reason for Erie County’s success in combatting the opioid epidemic.

The county shared new data Monday for opioid related deaths, prescriptions and enrollment in medicine assisted treatment (MAT) programs.
Credit Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News

“In the big picture, what we’re doing here in Erie County is working with our partners,” she said. “We’ve all come together to build sustainable systems to address our opioid epidemic.”

One of those systems is Buffalo MATTERS, a University at Buffalo-developed opioid treatment program which the New York State Department of Health announced last week would be expanded statewide. The program gives emergency room patients struggling with opioid use disorder rapid access to the withdrawal medication buprenorphine and helps them schedule their first appointment for long-term treatment at a clinic of their choosing within 24-48 hours of their ER visit.

Another program Dr. Burstein highlighted in her remarks Monday include the Response After Overdose pilot project, in which first responders treat and document the site of an overdose using the new ODMAP system, and then trained peer educators reach out to and counsel the overdose victim. The commissioner said that program helped reduce the number of overdoses in Cheektowaga from 167 in 2016 to 63 in 2018.

Despite celebrating the county’s progress, Poloncarz said the opioid crisis is by no means over.

“There are still individuals dying in our community as the result of an opiate overdose, and every death is one death too many. But I believe that the tools are in place to give people the opportunity to overcome their addiction.”

Immediate help for opioid addiction and other information is available via Erie County’s 24-hour addiction hotline: 716-831-7007.