Erie County, just as the rest of the nation, is facing an opiate and heroin addiction crisis. If trends continue, as many as 570 people in the county will die this year. While addiction affects all ages, the crisis is especially acute among young people.
One aspect of the problem was described by Karleen Bordonaro, a certified drug counselor who serves at Drug Court in Amherst. He told of a man who tried to get treatment for his addicted son. They went to Erie County Medical Center for detox, but “sat for hours.” The son, a heroin user who began getting sick from withdrawal, convinced his father they should leave. “The son said, ‘I’ll only use a little so that I won’t be sick.’ ”
One step that might have helped that man and his son comes before the County Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee today when members meet with department heads to consider funding for a new addiction hotline.
The expansion of Crisis Services would offer a 24/7 hotline for families desperate to help loved ones. And for addicts who want to get clean. Five full-time staff members would operate the hotline under the guidance of a supervisor. These counselors would connect people to “angels,” volunteers who work with local police departments. The volunteers will be sent to make initial contact with addicts and their loved ones with the goal of sending the affected family member into treatment.
The $301,467 for the hotline is a worthwhile expenditure, measured in the potential to save lives.
This opioid crisis requires action on nearly every level, from more methadone clinics to doctors who are certified to prescribe buprenorphine, also known as Suboxone, to treat addiction, as well as other medications. It requires physicians and other medical personnel to be trained to recognize addiction and not overprescribe opioid painkillers.
Local, state and national leaders have responded to this crisis. The Obama administration proposed an additional $1.1 billion. The Senate overwhelmingly passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act offering grants to governments and nonprofits. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has made attacking the opioid epidemic one of his priorities in this legislative session.
County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and key members of his administration are in full support of the hotline, along with a push to increase Health Department staffing.
The County Legislature should not hesitate. The fight to save those who have fallen victim to painkillers and heroin requires a multipronged approach, and the hotline is a critical component.