There’s no shortage of horror stories when it comes to heroin overdoses, but the one that U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. told Monday caused people to pause.
To hear Hochul talk, a Southtowns police agency recently reported saving the same heroin addict on six different occasions, each time with Narcan.
Hochul, who has been issuing public warnings about the opioid epidemic for years, said the story, while sad and troublesome, is evidence of the seriousness and breadth of the problem here.
“Sad to say, those warnings went unheeded,” Hochul said Monday
During a news conference to raise awareness about the epidemic, the prosecutor released new data backing up his claim that it’s a problem that crosses virtually all demographic categories.
Overdoses, for instance, are almost as common in the suburbs as they are in Buffalo, according to the Erie County Health Department. Forty-one percent of all overdoses in the county last year were in the suburbs while 44 percent took place in the city. The rest were in rural areas or among the homeless.
The county also found overdose victims are predominately white – 92 percent of all victims – and largely male – 79 percent of all victims. The data indicates 62 percent of all overdose victims are 30 or older and 38 percent are over 40 years old.
“This is something that reaches every corner of our community,” said Howard K. Hitzel, president of Lakeshore Behavioral Health, a substance abuse counseling center in Buffalo.
Hitzel and Hochul outlined a number of reforms that have helped the community address the opioid epidemic, but made it clear more work needs to be done.
This year, the number of fatal overdoses in the county, now estimated at about 250, is expected to surpass the 256 reported last year.
Across the country, more than 80 people a day are dying of opioid overdose, said John Flickinger, resident agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Buffalo.
Flickinger said prescription drugs are now the “gateway drug” to heroin and fentanyl, the deadly mix that experts believe is responsible for the recent increase in fatal overdoses.
To help educate the public, Hochul’s office is joining the Better Business Bureau in sponsoring a seminar for local businesses interested in learning how to recognize signs of addiction in their employees and providing them help.
The seminar, free and open to employers, will be held twice, from 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m., on Thursday at the WBBZ television studios in Eastern Hills Mall. The seminar is part of National Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week, a campaign to raise awareness about opioid overdoses.