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Amherst forum focuses on worsening epidemic of addiction to heroin, other opiates

At least 17 people died of opiate overdoes last year in Amherst.

That was up from five overdose deaths in 2014.

Dozens more people overdosed but survived.

Make no mistake, the epidemic of heroin and opiate adidctions and deaths is rampant in Amherst, and that is what drew 200 people to a community forum Wednesday night in Town Hall.

“We’re bringing accurate information to share with you,” said Anne F. Rohrer, coalition coordinator for the Amherst Task Force, which sponsored the forum.

“We have been what was once considered one of the safest communities in America, and also designated one of the top communities to raise a family. … I agree with all that. It’s a wonderful place to live, but that does not make us immune to the problems of society,” she added.

“We are facing an epidemic in our community, just as other communities are, so tonight we’re going to see what we can do about it.”

Those at the forum heard from speakers from the Amherst Police Department and the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, who offered to dispell some of the myths and misinformation about the problem.

Officer Gregory J. Trotter, a school resource officer, noted that opiates prescribed by physicians, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and fentanyl, are not safer than street drugs and that they often lead to the occurrence of criminal behavior to help feed an addiction.

The average street price for these drugs was described as about $2 a milligram, but as the abusers of these medications build up a tolerance, they require more of the drug to satisfy their addiction.

“Not many people can afford a $160-a-day addiction,” said Amherst Police Detective Jeffrey C. Gilbert.

Opiates now account for 74 percent of all drug deaths locally, he said.

Detective Lt. JoAnn R. DiNoto, commander of the Amherst Police Department’s narcotics unit, noted that nationally, prescription drug overdoses have risen by 430 percent in the last decade.

Avi Israel, whose 20-year-old son, Michael, committed suicide after struggling with an addiction prescription drugs in 2011, has since been on the forefront of increasing restrictions on the sale of opiates, including the creation of a database to let doctors know whether their patients are abusing prescription drugs. Israel said the information being dispensed to residents Wednesday night was vital.

“What the Town of Amherst is doing is fantastic; they’re bringing this out into the open,” he said. “This is a disease of the brain that could affect anybody.”

Israel added that, as a society, “we need to understand … that addiction is a disease, a disease just like diabetes or cancer. The bad thing about it is that there’s a stigma that goes along with this disease.”