On Thursday, as part of the Justice Department's National Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week, the U.S. Attorney in Buffalo will co-host a special program about addiction in the workforce. Program planners say the problem is more prevalent than what the public may think.
U.S. Attorney William Hochul and the Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York will present "Opiates in the Workplace" inside the studios of WBBZ-TV, located at the Eastern Hills Mall in Clarence. The purpose of the program will be to advise employers about recognizing signs of addiction and knowing how to help those battling it.
The program, scheduled for Thursday, September 22, is free of charge to participants and will be available in two sessions in order to allow interested parties to choose one that best fits their schedule.
The Erie County Health Department recorded 256 fatal overdoses of opioids or heroin/fentanyl combinations in 2015. Hochul says contrary to a wide belief that youth are the leading abusers of those drugs, it is adults who are most likely to die from overdoses.
"The leading demographic for fatalities are people in the 30- to 39-year-old age range," Hochul said. "In fact, almost 40 percent of the fatalities in Erie County are suffered by people who 40 years old or older."
Scheduled speakers at Thursday's program include Dr. Howard Hitzel of Lakeshore Behavioral Health, who restated a much-repeated message that addiction crosses all demographics and walks of life. During a Monday afternoon news conference in Hochul's downtown Buffalo office, Dr. Hitzel presented findings about the number of recovering addicts who are employed while doing so.
"A local treatment provider did a survey of their people receiving treatment and found that 30 percent of those people in treatment were employed," he said. "Some estimates say that upwards to 70 percent of people with an addiction are employed in some capacity. It may be full-time or part-time. Yes, it definitely is a workplace issue."
Speakers at Hochul's news conference acknowledged the increase of local treatment beds and legislation that changes how opioids are prescribed.
"Prevention is where we really want to go," Dr. Hitzel said. "It is to forestall people developing an addiction in the first place. Clearly, restricting the use of opioid medications is a good starting place."
As Hochul suggested during the news conference, law enforcers cannot simply arrest their way out of the crisis.