Bus passengers awaiting a ride and motorists traveling throughout Niagara Falls may notice a new series of signs now displayed on bus stop benches scattered across the Cataract City. They are offering contact information for those battling opioid addiction while also offering a message of hope.
The signs read "there is help, there is hope, recovery is possible." That's the motto of the Niagara County Opioid Task Force, also known as OASIS, which unveiled the signs Thursday outside Niagara Falls High School.
Art students at Niagara Falls submitted several designs, from which three students' works were selected.
"We did it with a fair dose of happiness, even though it's a very serious topic," said Robert Lynch, Advanced Placement Art Teacher at Niagara Falls High School. "Yet the art, I think, kind of elevated the mood of it. We wanted that message of the art to be one of positivity and hope moving forward."
The goal of the ad campaign, which also features contact information for Crisis Services in Niagara Falls, is to lift some of the stigma attached to life with addiction.
"Whether it's heroin, crack, cocaine, alcohol, mental health issues or prescription pain medicine, this is something that touches us all," said Niagara County Legislator Owen Steed. "It doesn't matter about your race, your age, your political status, your religious status, man or woman, straight or gay, rich or poor."
Niagara County officials say from 2016 to 2017, there were 308 opioid overdoses in Niagara County, 37 of which proved fatal. Last year, the numbers jumped to 438 overdoses including 44 fatalities.
Legislator Rebecca Wydysh says the numbers so far in 2019 suggest a drop in overdose cases. She would not pinpoint a specific reason for the desired downturn but credits several efforts for making an impact.
"We certainly won't be able to tell you exactly where those decreases come from, but I truly believe that the work that this task force is doing, all three of our subcommittees, the efforts they've been taking the last few years are helping with those numbers," Wydysh said. "Whether it's through public education, we're out at public forums, we're attending public events. We are holding Narcan training so that the public has those overdose reversal kits in their possession, there and ready to use if they need them."