BUFFALO, N.Y. - The opioid epidemic is, without a doubt, one of the most urgent public health matters in Western New York.
In 2016, for example, the Erie County Department of Health has already confirmed that more than 100 people have died due to opioid overdoses. Many other suspected cases are still awaiting official confirmation. Counties across the state -- and the nation, for that matter -- have constantly developed new tactics over the past few years to restrict access to prescription drugs and treat addiction.
On Saturday, those efforts continued. "National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day," sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration, encouraged people to dispose of their expired or unwanted prescriptions at designated locations. Western New York hosted more than 30 drop-off locations on Saturday, including one at Buffalo State College.
That's where 2 On Your Side found Frank Scarpinato, an environmental compliance specialist for the Erie County Department of Health.
He said controlled substances only make up a small percentage of the collected drugs, but the take-back program is still a significant tool in the fight against the opioid crisis.
"If they're not in your house," Scarpinato said, "they can't be misused."
Scarpinato said Erie County has collected more than 100 tons of material in the past eight years alone. Beyond Saturday, people can drop off drugs at more than 25 designated locations in Erie County, including most police departments. Walgreens also announced this week it would add drop-off locations in Erie County.
The drop-off programs have helped, Scarpinato said, but it's still a struggle to prevent and treat addiction.
"These are our neighbors, these are our friends, these are our mothers, our fathers, our sons, our daughters, people you work with, people you know," Scarpinato said. "These events definitely have an impact. The amount of pills that are available, according to what I've heard from DEA agents, is less, and they've become more expensive. So, obviously, we're doing something right."
The Erie County Department of Health has listed disposal sites on its website.