NIAGARA COUNTY, N.Y. — Tuesday morning the New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a report showing the impact opioids have had on the state.
The report said that opioid-related overdose deaths increased by 68% to nearly 5,000 individuals across the state from 2019 to 2021.
With the Opioid Settlement Fund Advisory Board sending its proposal to the state on how it should allocate the settlement money last week, now counties in Western New York and across the state are trying to plan for how they can use the funds to combat this epidemic.
“We're losing more people to overdose deaths than gun violence and car accidents combined, but nobody's talking about it,” said Avi Israel, a member of the board.
As the opioid epidemic continues to sweep across the nation, Niagara County ranks among the hardest hit in the state of New York with approximately 40 deaths per 100,000 residents — the second-highest overdose death rate in the state and a 300% increase since 2019.
“All of us are very disturbed by the number of people that opiate overdoses continue to impact,” said Myrla Gibbons Doxey, Deputy Director of Niagara County Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. “We really need the reach and the resources to be able to impact our community as a whole.”
The good news is those resources are coming, as the county is slated to receive $1.2 million in settlement funds from various lawsuits between the state's attorney general's office and pharmaceutical companies.
The bad news is we don't know when, and in the meantime, more and more Niagara Falls residents continue to fall victim to overdose.
“With all the time that ticks by that we recognize that we're planning, we understand that lives are lost,” Gibbon Doxey said. “So time is really of the essence.”
While they wait, the county is trying to create a plan for where the funds will go with the No. 1 issue they plan to address being harm reduction.
That’s on track with what the state is being advised to do, as the Opioid Settlement Board recommended last week that 22% — the largest portion of the funds statewide — be dedicated to harm reduction.
“I would strongly urge the legislators and the governor to accept our recommendation,” Israel said. “And for one reason only, we are the ones in the field. We face people who need help people who are in distress every single day.”