BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — “We have too many deaths, this has got to stop.”

In honor of International Overdose Awareness Day, the Erie County Department of Health placed a pinwheel per person who has passed away from opioids since 2009.

“We see that people don’t acknowledge, they don’t talk about it,” said Cheryll Moore, the Director of the Opiate Task Force in the Office of Harm Reduction at the Erie County Department of Health. “We need to talk about it. We need to recognize this. We need to honor our loved ones and not forget them.”

Moore, herself, has felt the impacts of what an overdose does to a family. She lost her sister due to a drug overdose.

“My sister’s children were raised by me. They need their mom, not me,” said Moore. “She didn’t choose to be sick, but she was and we ended up loosing her.”

According to Moore, addiction is a disease that should be treated the same way as society treats other diseases like diabetes. Her task force is there to help people get the treatment and help they deserve.

“We can encourage, we can support, we’re so lucky here at Erie County, I have a whole team of peers that lived recovery and they’re here to walk that journey with folks,” said Moore. “If we were dealing with strictly opioids, numbers would be much lower, but about half of these deaths are attributed to a stimulant’s in an opioid.”

The Health Department is seeing cases rise as fentanyl is found laced within the drugs sold on the street, which can be fifty to one hundred times more stronger than heroin.

“The problem is today, it’s going into other drugs,” said Moore. “It’s in Methamphetamine, it’s in what I call ‘club drugs’ and date rape drugs, GHB, really anything that can be a powder–probably has fentanyl in it.”

Abby Muck, a person recovering from substance abuse who is now a peer navigator for the task force, has lost two loved ones from drugs on the street being laced with Fentanyl. Her friend, Danielle, passed away this past week from cocaine being laced, and she lost her boyfriend, Richard, five years ago.

“He took a counterfeit pill, he thought he was taking a Xanax, it was pure fentanyl,” said Muck. “I really took a look at what I was doing. I didn’t think I had a problem, but then when he passed away from a counterfeit pill, it made me realize that I’m getting them off the street, that could happen to me.”

Muck used painkillers for 10 years, and she says the more she took them, the more tolerant she became to them.

“I just used more and more and more, and then I would end up running out of my prescriptions, so I would go to the streets.” said Muck.

After losing her boyfriend, she realized it was time to get help.

“I reached out for help and I got it right away,” said Muck, “I’m doing so much better and now I’m helping people, and that helps my recovery as well.”

Muck joins others who are teaming up to help ease the path to recovery for people with substance abuse disorders around Erie County.

“It’s an easier way to live in recovery than it is to live in addiction,” said Michael Evancho, a peer navigator and person recovering from substance abuse. “You can’t really tell somebody what to do in recovery, you make suggestions, you offer your experience — you encourage others to take a better path.”

The Opioid Task force encourages everyone to come pick up free Narcan and fentanyl testing strips, and to receive help when they are ready.

To receive free Narcan, fentanyl testing strips, and to receive help call the Erie County Department of Health at (716) 858-7690.

Hope Winter is a reporter and multimedia journalist who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here.