Many questions, few answers as opioid epidemic continues

Mar 14, 2017

As the death toll rises, what to do about the continuing opioid epidemic? That was the question Monday night at Williamsville's Hyatt Place.

The meeting was convened by Buffalo Strong under the title "Together We Stand Against Addiction." Leading the event was Save the Michaels House of Hope and Community Resources.

Save The Michaels, run by Avi Israel, is named for Michael Israel, whose prescription drugs put him on a fatal spiral. Israel said calls for help re spiraling upward, with a constant question.

"'What can I do?' And, 'I try to find them a place around the state where they can go to,'" Israel said. "The calls are getting more frequent, where at one time I may have gotten maybe one or two calls a week, I get several calls every day now, seven days a week."

The problem is not going away and overdoses from a wide variety of drugs are occurring everywhere. Topping the list is fentanyl. Someone can die from a speck of the drug almost too small to see.

Treatment and care is expanding, although the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services estimates only one in 14 in need is being treated. General Counsel Rob Kent said a lot of money is being spent, starting with $600 million of his agency's budget.

"Medicaid? Probably another $800 million. So it's over a billion dollars and that doesn't include private insurance," Kent said. "The one thing I will say to you, though, is in the last 3 years, making these changes to the insurance laws, I think some of that over a billion dollars was government funds being used to subsidize the care of people with insurance who couldn't access it."

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

Kent cited a new facility now on line in Sanborn run by Horizon Health with 25 beds, built with state dollars. Horizon said the facility was full its first day.

Horizon Corporate Communications Director Christina Pearl said her agency has a patient profile.

"16,000 people a year and it's young adults that grew up in a great family, a great home and had maybe an injury or maybe experimented with some prescription drug and eventually went to heroin," Pearl said. "And, unfortunately, this does not discriminate against the type of family, where you were raised."