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Sparked by opioid deaths, City of Tonawanda stepping up drug enforcement

Two drug overdose deaths in two months in the City of Tonawanda and an additional seven calls to administer the antidote Narcan have caused concern for city officials.

Police Chief William L. Strassburg said opioids are “a growing problem” in the city as heroin, laced with dangerous fentanyl derivatives, compounds the problem of prescription painkiller abuse.

On Tuesday, the Common Council responded by agreeing to dedicate a narcotics detective to the Regional Narcotics Task Force, which is made up of Erie County law enforcement officers and federal Drug Enforcement Administration officers. The detective position will be filled internally to serve on the task force and the Council agreed to allow Strassburg to hire a new officer to fill the open spot.

Strassburg told the Council that this position will give the city a "seat at the table" in its efforts to fight what he sees as a growing opiate drug problem.

"If we want to attack this problem this is a way to get resources we don't have," Strassburg said. "The experience they will get from the other officers on this task force will be hugely valuable."

He said there is an opening on the six-member task force, which will require a one-year commitment from the city.

The dedicated narcotics officer will work on regional drug-related issues and the city will be reimbursed for overtime costs related to the task force, said Strassburg.

The city would get a share of assets the task force's seizes from drug suspects, no matter where the seizure occurs, Strassburg said. But he said there are restrictions on the use of seizure funds.

Mayor Rick Davis said the city held a public meeting last week to let families and people who are addicted to opioids know what resources are out there. Council President Jenna N. Koch said the city plans to hold additional opioid task force meetings for the community in the near future.

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