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‘Our Community, Our Epidemic’ forum to focus on deadly opiate plague

Two prominent public officials announced a double punch against the opiate epidemic Monday that seeks to educate citizens and go after international drug dealers.

U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. urged residents to attend an educational forum titled “Our Community, Our Epidemic” set for 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 14 at Lancaster High School, explaining that police alone cannot quell the epidemic that continues to claim lives at a record pace.

Flanked by members of the law enforcement and drug treatment communities Monday morning at Lancaster Police Headquarters, Hochul said Western New York faces its biggest challenge in “generations” to find a way to end the epidemic.

“Heroin is nothing but rat poison, especially when it is mixed with other ingredients like fentanyl,” Hochul said. “It’s like playing Russian roulette.”

Shortly after that news conference, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., held one at the West Seneca Renaissance Campus for Kids Escaping Drugs, urging House members to pass a Senate-approved bill that would make it easier for federal prosecutors to indict and extradite international drug dealers.

In making a case for the bill, Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown described the city’s latest overdoses. On Friday, a man and a woman found unconscious with needles in their arms beneath the elevated section of Interstate 190 at Erie Street and Marine Drive downtown. The man was revived with the antidote Narcan, but the woman died.

The Erie County death toll from opiates so far this year is 147 and could reach 300, more than double the 128 deaths last year, according to county Health Department officials who attended both news conferences.

Despite increased arrests of heroin dealers and doctors who write painkiller prescriptions for dealers, the message that opiates kill has not gotten through to the public, Hochul said.

John Flickinger, supervisory agent for the local office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said that every area police agency has experienced cases in which they have responded twice in the same day to revive the same person with Narcan.

At the Renaissance Campus, most of the 62 young people started on prescription painkillers and ended up as heroin addicts, according to director Jodie L. Altman. “We’ve had 25 kids fatally overdose so far this year.”