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Health Commissioner: Erie Co. opioid overdose deaths up 57% in 2020

According to Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein, 245 people died from an opioid related overdose in 2020, significantly up from 2019.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday that the number of opioid overdose deaths in the United States was over 93,000 in 2020. That's a 30% increase nationally from 2019. 

In Erie County, Health Commissioner Gale Burstein reported a similar, devastating figure. 

"In 2019, we've had a low of 156, opioid-related overdose deaths, and in 2020, that increased 57% to 245, opioid-related overdose deaths," Dr. Burstein said.

The trajectory for 2021 hasn't improved either. Burstein said there have been 85 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths in Erie County, and an additional 75 that could be added once the full toxicology reports are submitted. 

The biggest culprit according to Dr. Burstein? Fentanyl-laced cocaine. 

"Police Services has told us that much of the cocaine available on the streets right now is spiked with fentanyl," Dr. Burstein said. "Almost all of our opioid-related overdose deaths in 2020 did have a positive tox screen for fentanyl."

Burstein went on to say that half of the overdose deaths in 2020 had a positive tox screen for cocaine. 

The demographics of those impacted by the opioid epidemic also shifted between 2019 and 2020. 

"We're seeing a slightly older age people in their middle age now that are affected," Dr. Burstein said. "When police go to the crime scene, they see white powder all over the place again, proof that people think that they're using cocaine."

The COVID pandemic prevented county health officials from conducting many of their prevention initiatives. Now that vaccination rates are up, the county is getting back to what worked in 2019, which had one of the lower overdose rates since the county started keeping track. 

"We have Buffalo Matters, working in our emergency department, anybody can go directly to the emergency department or get a virtual emergency department visit," Dr. Burstein said 

Peer-to-peer mentoring will be made available and the county hotline is also available for those looking to treat addiction. 

"People are struggling with a chronic disease," Burstein said. "We have to be kind, we have to be respectful, and we have to help people get into care and that is our charge and we have medications that can help people and we have to get into treatment and actually be, you know, live healthily and not have cravings."

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