BUFFALO, N.Y. - The opioid epidemic is suspected to have claimed 17 lives in Erie County over the past week, County Executive Mark Poloncarz reported Thursday in a Twitter post, another indication that the crisis has continued to worsen in 2017.
Through the first three months of the new calendar year, opioid-related deaths were already on pace to surpass 2016 totals by a wide margin. Then, last week, Poloncarz and several county administrators called an emergency news conference after the deaths of seven people in a 24-hour span, likely due to an especially dangerous batch of heroin circulating throughout the county.
It's unclear what exactly that heroin contained, Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein said, nor is it clear whether the same dangerous batch led to any of the additional deaths over the past week. The county must wait for toxicology reports to return before making a definitive conclusion.
However, Burstein said in a phone interview Thursday evening that another public health warning is necessary this week after the latest 17 suspected deaths.
"Now, more than any time, it's important to get into care if you are addicted to opioids," Burstein said. "Because there is something on the street that is killing people-- and you do not want to be the next victim."
Burstein continued to stress the importance of carrying and using overdose-reversal treatments like Narcan.
She also directed people to the county's Addiction Hotline at 716-831-7007.
On his Twitter account, Poloncarz reported the day-by-day totals of suspected opioid-related deaths. Seventeen deaths in the span of a week would nearly double the reported weekly average through March, according to figures reported by Poloncarz at last week's emergency news conference. At that time, Poloncarz said the county saw an average of 6.8 deaths per week in 2017.
Also on Thursday, Erie County legislator Patrick Burke proposed a plan to direct $1 million in funding to the Erie County Department of Health in an effort to expand treatment access. Burke said his proposed measure is under review by a legislative committee, but he appeared optimistic that it would enjoy support from both Democrats and Republicans in the Erie County Legislature.