Opioid Overdose Deaths Are Wiping Out The Population Gains In One New York County

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Opioid Overdose Deaths Are Wiping Out The Population Gains In One New York County

By Keri Blakinger 05/02/16

Erie County overdose death rates could climb to more than 500 by the end of this year.

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Opioid Overdose Deaths Are Wiping Out The Population Gains In One New York County
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In one upstate New York county, the opioid overdose rate is so high that it’s on track to negate the area’s population gains, according to county officials. Erie County lies in the western portion of New York state and is home to Buffalo, the state’s second largest city. It’s also home to a massive opiate problem.

“We’re averaging about 10 deaths a week of Erie County residents as a result of the opiate epidemic,” County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Thursday at a press conference, the Buffalo News reported. “I want you to think about this, folks. It took a lot of years for Erie County to start seeing population gain after the drops in the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000. Finally, the population came back." Poloncarz says the county's population gain from the last 20 years will "disappear in two years" as a result of rising overdose fatalities.

The Buffalo paper wrote that Poloncarz’s claim was “a bit exaggerated,” but generally correct. The area’s population was in decline for decades, but that trend reversed in 2014 when the countywide population increased by about 1,400. 

Around this time last year, there were 84 confirmed overdose deaths countywide, but in 2016, there have been 157 suspected or confirmed overdose deaths by April 21. At this rate, the county could reach more than 500 overdose deaths by the end of the year. 

To combat the growing problem, the county’s health commissioner suggested that patients should simply turn down opiate painkillers if doctors offer them. “It’s important to raise awareness because there are things people can do in their own homes, in their own families to really make a difference—such as when they’re offered a prescription for a narcotic pain medication, they can say no,” said Commissioner Gale Burstein. “They can ask for alternatives.” 

Beside offering the updated twist on just-say-no, the county scheduled a prescription drug drop-off program and a townhall-style meeting on opioid addiction. Of course, the rising overdose death toll is not just limited to Erie County. The alarming uptick in overdose deaths across the country have taken over driving accidents as the number one cause of unintentional, injury-related deaths. 

On Saturday, many of those affected in the Buffalo area participated in an opiate awareness and memorial walk just steps away from the collection site for the DEA's Prescription Drug Take Back Day. “This is an equal-opportunity epidemic,” said William Wieczorek, director of the Institute for Community Health Promotion at Buffalo State, before the memorial walk.

 

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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