In the first 10 days of March, heroin and other opiates are believed to have claimed as many as 10 lives in Buffalo.
But that’s only a portion.
Since the beginning of the year, city detectives have determined at least 25 individuals died from overdoses.
“We are at epidemic levels and there is no end in sight,” Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said Thursday. “Sadly, it is probably going to get much worse before it gets better.”
But the epidemic goes beyond Buffalo.
“We continue to see high numbers of suspected opioid deaths coming to our Medical Examiner’s Office,” Erie County Health Commissioner Gale R. Burstein said Thursday.
She urged residents to dispose of unused prescription opioids at area drop-off boxes.
At the current pace, fatalities from opiates across Erie County could by year’s end exceed the number of fatal overdoses in 2015. It is estimated that when all of the 2015 toxicology tests are completed, the opiate epidemic will have claimed 264 lives.
That would be more than double the 128 overdose deaths from the previous year.
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In the second week of February, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, Burstein and federal authorities warned drug addicts that a “hot batch” of heroin believed to have been spiked with fentanyl was taking lives. Twenty-three people died from opiate overdoses over an 11-day period that started Jan. 29.
There were signs of the impending epidemic a decade ago, said Anne Constantino, head of Horizon Health Services, one of the region’s biggest providers of drug treatment and mental health services.
“I don’t expect that we are quickly going to bend the curve,” Constantino said. “Ten years ago, we were suddenly seeing young people coming into treatment not for alcohol abuse or marijuana, but for serious addictions to prescription opioid medications.”
Another factor is contributing to the deaths, said Dr. Ann Griepp, medical director for behavioral health management at Univera Healthcare. Addicts who are in treatment and later have a slip return to the same drug consumption level where they left off.
But because of the temporary abstinence, she said, their bodies lack the tolerance for the previous dosage and it proves lethal.
The health commissioner also urged residents seeking treatment for pain to turn down opioid medications and instead request high-dosage ibuprofen, as a way of avoiding the highly addictive medications and bringing them into the home.