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Erie County sees 49% increase in opioid related overdose deaths in 2020

Burstein says the Erie County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed 232 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2020, with 17 cases still pending toxicology reports.

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. — Erie County health officials gave an update Wednesday regarding opioid-related overdose deaths in the county last year.

In a virtual press conference with reporters, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein shared data from the Erie County Medical Examiner's Office and the Opiate Epidemic Task Force, saying the county saw a 49 percent increase in opioid related overdose deaths in 2020.

Dr. Burstein says the Erie County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed 232 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2020, with 17 cases still pending toxicology reports. In 2019, 156 opioid-related deaths were recorded in the county.

According to the Erie County Department of Health, this increase follows a steady three year decline of opioid-related deaths since the county established the Opiate Epidemic Task Force. The task force was created after 301 deaths were reported in 2016.

“Sadly, each one of these numbers represents a preventable death of one of our neighbors,” Poloncarz said. “The concerted efforts of our Opiate Epidemic Task Force resulted in significant declines in opioid overdose deaths in prior years, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented too many people from receiving the resources we offer to help and support them. Our community has demonstrated how to turn this terrible tide, and we have to do it again.”  

The county went on to say that the percentage of overdose deaths in 2020 with opioid and cocaine involvement increased from about 15 percent in 2016 to 43 percent. In addition, 84 percent of opioid-related overdose deaths in 2020 involved fentanyl.

“The percentage of overdose fatalities with cocaine involvement is troubling, and we have to sound an even louder alarm that cocaine is not safe,” Dr. Burstein said. “Cocaine in Erie County is likely to contain fentanyl, which is a powerful and dangerous opioid that can stop your breathing and end your life almost instantaneously. Don’t trust your cocaine.”

Dr. Burstein says the county is seeing a more diverse group of individuals fall victim to overdose deaths, including more people of color and more of a middle age population. She added that no one is immune, saying everyone is affected no matter their age, gender, ethnicity or where they live.

The county is directing anyone who needs help to contact the Erie County Addiction Hotline, which is available 24/7, at (716) 831-7007.

You can watch the full press conference below: