Buffalo, NY - Erie County has been recognized for its comprehensive approach to attack the opioid epidemic.But could some additional strategies be more effective ? 2 on Your Side asked Erie County's chief medical officer about what more can be done as we hold people in power accountable.
Still one of the primary methods to combat our still surging opioid epidemic is an information and training session like the one held recently in a Buffalo church basement. It was run by the Erie County Health Department to also knock down the stigma of addiction which is that it can happen to anyone, anywhere. As the county trainer pointed out "The way we can really fight this epidemic is to get the whole community invoklved...not just people under...who have been impact by it."
And continuing demonstrations on the use of narcan or naloxone are paying off and saving lives. For example 2,500 people have been trained and they have numbers strictly from Buffalo first responders so far this year.
Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burtsein says "They've had over 1,400 saves for naloxone so you can imagine that probably for every overdose death there are probably three to five naloxone saves."
Dr. Burstein also says more calls are coming into to the county's addiction hotline for help. These.are seemingly positive moves but we asked is there more that can be done? Burstein says "Yes...yes...our opioid task force is not a stagnant group."
And their outreach is going after the white coats with more doctors writing less prescriptions for opiod painkillers. They are suggesting more common over the counter painkillers like ibuprofen. But for those who really are addicted they area also reaching directly into the hospital emergency departments. Dr. Burstein says "We're working with our ED providers to hopfully be able to get more certified so they can start people who are coming in for opioid related complications on buprenorphine." That's the effective addiction treatment medication also known as suboxone for which doctors have had limited prescription access.
Still Dr.Burstein says despite some recent progress, the opioid addiction crisis could easily last another ten to 20 years. "The only numbers we know are the tip of the iceberg of our overdose deaths. But we know that there are so many people who are struggling with addiction, some of those are in care but we know many of them are not in care."
While our overdose numbers are disturbing. we can give some perspective. Some say Ohio is ground zero for the country's opioid epidemic. That's in part because of more powerful fentanyl which is the deadly synthetic killer that dealers use to cut heroin for more supply.
Cleveland is obviously a larger metro of over a million people. But Dr. Burstein says they've had 600 overdoses and expect many more.