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Memorial walk, drug drop-offs highlight opiate epidemic in Erie County

Families and friends of people trapped in drug addiction marched in a memorial walk Saturday just steps from where county residents were dropping off unwanted prescription drugs at the SUNY Buffalo State campus.

The connection was more than coincidence.

Experts say prescription drugs are fueling the opiate addiction epidemic, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2010 began holding National Prescription Drug Take Back Days.

The opiate awareness and memorial walk drew about 75 people. Many had lost a loved one to an overdose of heroin. Some carried signs, wore T-shirts saying “Painkillers kill more than pain” or wore photos of a dead family member pinned near their hearts.

Robin Ebling’s youngest son, Aaron, died July at 24 from an overdose of heroin mixed with fentanyl.

“It takes their future,” Ebling said as she walked with nine relatives.

It is estimated that when toxicology tests are completed, the opiate epidemic will have claimed 264 lives last year in Erie County. That is the double the number who died in 2014.

And the number of fatal opiate overdoses this year is on track to double again.

The epidemic cuts across the county. Suburban and rural residents who die from overdoses is nearly equal to the number of city residents, and the number of women dying of overdoses is nearly equal to the number of men, according William Wieczorek, director of the Institute for Community Health Promotion at Buffalo State, before the walk

“This is an equal-opportunity epidemic,” Wieczorek said.

Saturday is the 11th national drug drop-off day, with more than 5,000 sites here and across the country. Between September 2010 and last September, the previous 10 events collected 5.5 million pounds of drugs.

Buffalo State was one of 12 sites in Erie County and North Tonawanda where people could drop off unwanted prescription and non-prescription medicine on Saturday. The drugs were collected, sorted and packed up for disposal at an incinerator.

“You just don’t want to take the chance,” said Kevin Hosey, who drove up with his wife, Val Dunne.

They dropped off Adderall, Paxil and hydrocodone that Dunne had been prescribed and hydrocodone, Oxycontin and Lortab that Hosey’s mother had been prescribed for knee pain.

They went to the drug drop-off events to dispose of their medication, after finding out that flushed medications can get into area waterways.