County moves to fund private sector to help fight opioid epidemic

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Erie County Legislators last week decided they will pay private and non-profit addiction treatment centers to step up their fight against the county’s opioid epidemic, rather than spending the money, at least all of it, in house.

But opponents of the decision say it’s a move that’s far too slow — and more people could die because of it.

“The efforts that we’ve made are fine,” said Legislator Joseph Lorigo, C-West Seneca. “But they’re not enough.”

Last August, Erie County launched an entire taskforce dedicated to fighting the opioid epidemic, which continues to worsen.

That year, it’s believed 300 people died from opiate overdoses.

In the first six months of this year, 66 people are confirmed to have died the same way, with another 110 deaths suspected.

“If what government has been trying to do hasn’t been working, it’s time to look at the private sector,” Lorigo said.

That’s why the legislature agreed to spend taxpayers’ money elsewhere. In the coming weeks, the county will send out requests for proposals from outside the Rath Building.

“These private sector organizations or community groups, community social services organizations, are on the front lines of this everyday,” Lorigo said. “These organizations are better served, and have better ideas, that we can come up with to really make an impact.”

Legislator Patrick Burke, D-Buffalo, believes otherwise. He says an RFP process is far too slow — and may cost more lives.

“I’m seeing deliberation and talks and talks and talks, and that’s not what we need right now,” Burke said. “If the people in charge of fighting this opioid epidemic haven’t figured out where the money should go at this point, then they shouldn’t be a charge.”

His original proposal gave the money directly to the county health department, to spend as it sees fit.

“No one has all of the answers, but there are some and we know that there’s a vacuum of resources and that’s what I wanted it to go to immediately,” Burke said.

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