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10 heroin overdoses in 24 hours point to epidemic in Buffalo

At least 10 opiate overdoses in just over 24 hours.

If you had any doubt about the seriousness of the opiate epidemic sweeping Erie County, take a look at what happened from Thursday afternoon through Friday afternoon.

One man died. One woman overdosed twice. All 10 cases were in Buffalo.

“We need to work together to tackle this public health crisis in our community that has tragically affected so many families,” Erie County Health Commissioner Gale R. Burstein said in responding to whether there is any end in sight to the epidemic. “Getting trained to recognize and treat a drug overdose is not enough. We have to ensure that overdose victims are referred into care immediately to stop these repeated overdoses.”

The spiking number of overdoses late this week was blamed on one or more “hot batches” of opiates that rendered addicts unconscious and forced their respiratory systems to begin shutting down. Police, firefighters and other first responders administered the opiate antidote Narcan and continued to save lives, but the deadly tide of the epidemic has kept rising. The number of overdose fatalities this year could end up doubling last year’s 119.

Alarmed at the large number of overdoses over such a short period of time, Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said, “It appears to be a deadly batch coming from the same source. Drug users need to be warned of what’s out there.”

Buffalo narcotics investigators spent most of Thursday night and early Friday morning trying to determine who was responsible for this super potent batch of opiates that has hit the streets.

“At this time we are unable to ascertain whether there is a common source for this potent heroin,” Narcotics Lt. Paul J. Flanagan said.

He and Detective Mark K. Locicero went to hospital emergency rooms and the homes of addicts and worked the phones trying to reach those who had survived. Often the addicts had been discharged, had not returned home and were not answering calls.

The investigators vowed to continue the search for whoever is responsible for the killer batch of opiates.

A check with suburban police departments determined that there had not been a corresponding spike in overdoses during the same 24-hour period, but that did not mean suburban drug addicts had been spared from the danger.

“There hasn’t been an uptick but that might be explained because a lot of suburbanites go into the city and that’s where they experience their overdoses,” said Amherst Assistant Police Chief Charles Cohen, referring to addicts who travel to Buffalo to buy and use drugs.

Two of the individuals who overdosed in Buffalo on Thursday were from Hamburg and Elma, police said.

Lackawanna Police Capt. Joseph Leo said he has seen a steady increase in overdoses in recent days and weeks.

“We had two on Thursday. A month ago we had a man who died from an overdose after he had been revived earlier in that same day by firefighters using Narcan,” said Leo, chief of the detective bureau. “Whatever the dealers are mixing the heroin with, it is knocking out the addicts.”

In Cheektowaga, the town routinely sees multiple overdoses, a pattern that started earlier this year, according to Assistant Police Chief James J. Speyer Jr.

“We’ll have two or three on some days and then we’ll have none on other days,” Speyer said.

Buffalo police and fire officials listed these incidents from the 24-hour-plus period:

•  4:02 p.m. Thursday – Two individuals found in a car on McKinley Parkway in South Buffalo.

• 4:13 p.m. Thursday – A man found dead in his home on Cantwell Drive in South Buffalo.

• 6:33 p.m. Thursday – A woman found on the first block of Guernsey Street in the northwest section of the city.

• 9:08 p.m. Thursday – A woman found at her residence on the first block of West Chippewa Street. It was her second overdose of the day.

• 9:15 p.m. Thursday – A man found on the 500 block of Norwood Avenue.

• 10:10 p.m. Thursday – A man found in his automobile at Langfield Drive and Suffolk Street.

• 11 a.m. Friday – A man found at Main Street and Glenwood Avenue on the East Side.

• 3 p.m. Friday – A man found at Hertel Avenue and Norris Street.

• 5:57 p.m. Friday – A man found along railroad tracks near the 1700 block of Clinton Street.

Burstein commended sheriff’s narcotics detectives and Buffalo police for the seizure of 2,100 bags of fentanyl in Buffalo on Wednesday, saying, “This most recent seizure will remove dangerous drugs from our streets.”

Dellsean Hamilton, 26, of Dash Street, was charged with felony counts of drug dealing and possession, in addition to possession of a weapon.

The health commissioner also urged residents to attend the county’s two-hour training classes to learn the signs of an opioid overdose and how to administer the drug naloxone, also known as Narcan, to revive individuals who have overdosed.

“We also have to try to keep opioid drugs out of our homes by asking health care providers for nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory medications, rather than prescription narcotic pain medication and by disposing of unused prescription medications in the Erie County medication disposal kiosk sites located throughout Erie County,” Burstein said.

Derenda added that disposal boxes are located at all five city district police stations.