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$16 million earmarked for WNY to fight heroin, opioid crisis

Lives will be saved with $16 million in state funding for Western New York to fight the heroin and opioid crisis, officials predicted Thursday afternoon, hours after leaders of towns, villages and cities from across Erie County convened in Williamsville to talk about how to react to the crisis at the local level.

"It's hard to find someone these days who hasn't been personally touched by, or known a family member touched by, the heroin opioid crisis in some way, which is why it's clear now more than ever New York State needs to continue to do its part to support those affected as well as address these problems before they even start," said State Sen. Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo).

The funding comes from $213 million set aside in the state budget, $145 million of which will go toward services offered by community-based providers, including treatment beds, housing units, treatment programs, outpatient services and crisis/detox programs.

"The additional funding I'm sure will allow the expansion of crisis intervention, residential treatment and medication-assisted treatment, all of which are evidence-based practices and effective treatments for addiction," said Anne D. Constantino, president of Horizon Health Services, where Thursday's announcement was made.

Kennedy was joined at Thursday's announcement by State Sen. Chris Jacobs, Assemblymembers Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Monica Wallace and Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.

Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., Constantino said.

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"We are in the midst of the worst drug overdose epidemic in American history -- the worst drug addiction crisis ever," said Constantino. "We've never seen anything like this."

Seven Erie County residents died last month within 24 hours due to a particularly deadly batch of heroin. One of those residents was 26-year-old Daniel Adamczyk of Cheektowaga, whose parents, Lonnie and Chris, attended Thursday's announcement. Daniel had been sober for 20 months but relapsed in late March, said Chris Adamczyk, a member of the Cheektowaga Town Council.

In Erie County, there was a 256 percent increase in drug overdose deaths between 2010 and 2015, the highest percentage in the state, and nearly 300 confirmed opioid related deaths in 2016, according to the county Health Department.

"That's why it was very important for the state to act," said Poloncarz, a member of a national opioid epidemic task force. "We know what we can do on the local front. We know the amount of local dollars we can contribute and we have contributed local dollars on behalf of the people of Erie County towards the spike, but we did need additional funding from the state."

The "local front" was the focus earlier Thursday of a forum in Williamsville Village Hall that brought together mayors and supervisors from across Erie County to learn about prevention and treatment. The forum was held in response to Catholic Health's controversial plan to open a drug treatment clinic on Millersport Highway in Amherst, near a residential neighborhood.

The crowd heard from a panel that included Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale R. Burstein; Paul J. Williams III, chief of the Narcotics Bureau in the Erie County’s District Attorney’s Office; Timothy W. Logsdon, a licensed mental health counselor for Inner Quest Counseling Services; and Dr. Andrew B. Symons of UB Family Medicine and Horizon Health Services.

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Burstein explained that addiction is a chronic disease of the brain, and that medication-assisted treatment offers the best chances for long-term recovery.

"We're really trying to battle the stigma," she told the crowd. "But as we've learned with Catholic Health trying to establish a new clinic in Amherst, there is still a lot of stigma in our community."

Springville Mayor Bill Krebs said a village task force is ready to act, and would support a drug treatment clinic in the village.

"That's my village right now. That's the popular opinion," he said. "I really appreciate this conversation. I have specific things I'm going to take back to my village and to our coalition. We're not going to give up."

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