A heroin packet undergoes analysis at the Erie County Forensic Lab. (News file photo)

Eight people have died from suspected drug overdoses in Erie County since Saturday, and another three suspected fatal overdoses occurred in surrounding counties, the Erie County Health Department said Monday.

Dr. Gale R. Burstein, the county's health commissioner, was not specific about which surrounding counties had the deaths.

In Buffalo, three people died from suspected heroin overdoses in less than 24 hours, Buffalo Police said Monday.

The report brings the 2017 overdose count in Erie County to 40 confirmed fatalities and 122 suspected cases that are still awaiting toxicology results.

Burstein said there is speculation that this latest rash of overdoses is a result of individuals using a combination of drugs, such as fentanyl and cocaine, fentanyl and heroin, and fentanyl, heroin and cocaine.

“The fentanyl that is being seen in Erie County continues to increase in potency,” Burstein said.

“When we see a spike in suspected overdoses as we have this past weekend, we warn the public as soon as possible that the risk of fatal overdoses has increased due to the street drugs currently in circulation,” she said.

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At the end of March, Erie County officials reported that seven people had died within a 24-hour period from a suspected bad batch of heroin.

In Buffalo, the most recent of the fatal overdoses involved a 34-year-old construction worker who was found inside a portable bathroom behind the Gates Circle construction project at 11:45 a.m. Monday. The other two suspected overdoses claimed the lives of a 26-year-old man on the 100 block of Fargo Avenue and a 55-year-old man on the first block of Custer Street, according to Buffalo police.

"The tragic cycle is repeating itself again, four deaths in less than 24 hours," Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said.

There are things people can do, once they are alerted to the risks that the current batch of drugs on the streets pose, according to Burstein.

"We are advising, because of the very potent doses of fentanyl, for people to consider purchasing — if they have the opportunity — Adapt Narcan nasal spray, which is available already pre-assembled. It comes in a four milligram dose rather than the other products are available in a two milligram dose," she said.

The health commissioner noted that Naloxone, an agent that reverses the effects of opioid medications, can be purchased without a prescription.

There is plenty of help available locally for those seeking to get treatment for their opioid addictions, Burstein added.

"There's options out there if you get into care. They're playing Russian roulette right now with using these illicit drugs purchased on the street, especially within the last couple of days," she said.

Fears of having to go through a painful detoxification or wrenching withdrawal are no longer the barriers to treatment they once were for addicts in the past, Burstein said.

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