Buffalo, NY - The death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman from a suspected drug overdose is expected to raise awareness to the dangers of heroin.
Here in Erie County, officials are also sounding the alarm, about a more potent form of the drug.
So too, are the parents of a recent overdose victim, who spoke with WGRZ-TV.
The number of Erie County residents who died in 2013 as a result of a heroin overdose showed a significant increase from 2012 to 2013, according to the Erie County Health Department.
"Heroin overdoses, as well as overdoses from opioids such as hydrocodone, continue to plague our community," said Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County Commissioner of Health. "In addition, we are also encountering instances where the heroin has most likely been cut with fentanyl, a drug that can be anywhere from 10 to 100 times more potent than morphine."
Burstein says fentanyl, a narcotic commonly associated with anesthesia, is almost always fatal when mixed with Heroin.
Health officials across the U.S are seeing the number of deaths associated with such drug use spike dramatically in recent weeks and months.
There were four suspected cases in Erie County during a weeklong span in late January, while there were 22 others in the county surrounding Pittsburgh in Western Pennsylvania during roughly the same period.
"We're seeing a lot of this on the street, and we're seeing a lot of drug overdoses from this heroin with Fentanyl ," Burstein said.
"If you have some relative or some family member that's using heroin you may not see them at the end of the day now, specifically with what they're cutting the heroin with," said AlanRozansky, who heads up the Erie County Sheriff's Narcotics Bureau, and who refers to the drugs as "poison". "Anytime you inject something into your veins that causes instant death, I'd call that poison, yes," Rozansky said.
The parents of one recent victim of what is suspected to be a death attributable to a heroin/fentanyl mixture in a Buffalo suburb, are speaking out in hopes of alerting other parents.
"You can never prepare for it and I don't know how to deal with it to tell you the truth," said the mother of the victim, a 23-year-old male, who along with her husband wished not to be identified.
They wanted people to know that the perils of drug abuse cuts through all paths of life, no matter the gender, or socio-economic conditions of those involved.
Their son grew up in what they describe as a typical, middle class home, with a sibling and two working parents.
"He had a lot of people who support him and who believed in him," said his father.
They also say their son had hopes and dreams much the same as any other young person.
"He wanted to get married and have children," said his mother. "He wanted to have a job and a good life."
Their son's dreams began derailing when he began using drugs at age 17.
"He made one bad choice…one bad choice," his mother said.
As parents, they tried to help their son with his problem.
"You throw money at it, you throw love at it…. you throw tough love at it," said his father, who said his son tried to beat his addiction by going to re-hab.
"He didn't like being an addict…he hated everything about it," his mother said. "It was just something more powerful than him."
"So many people think, it's always going to be the other guy," said his father. "But we're here to say to others that you can't be afraid…you need to get your head out of the sand….this involves all types of kids, and we're losing an entire generation of our society of young kids to this.
"This is something that should not happen to anyone, said his mother. "We don't want this to happen to anyone else…and we don't want our son's death to be for nothing," she said.
Their first move to that extent was to ask people attending their son's funeral that, in lieu of flowers, they make donations in his name to the Kids Escaping Drugs campaign.
"We need to start by raising awareness to this….that's why we're speaking today," the father said.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Charles Moore. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2