BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force is warning community members about a noteworthy rise in opioid-related deaths that involve cocaine.

The task force says 245 Erie County residents have died as a result of a suspected or confirmed opioid overdose through July 28 of this year, many of which appeared to be completely unintentional, according to officials. In 81 percent of those deaths to date, cocaine was present in the toxicology results, which is double the percentage from 2021.

Fatalities in connection with fentanyl and cocaine have seen a significant increase in the past six years, as fewer than 20 percent of opioid-related deaths in 2016 involved cocaine.

“These deaths occur with people who use cocaine occasionally or irregularly,” Opiate Epidemic Task Force Director Cheryll Moore said in a release. “We are being as direct as we can when we say this: if you are thinking of taking a line of cocaine or smoking a crack rock, you are at a deadly risk of fentanyl poisoning, and it could be the last thing you do.”

In 2023, 43 percent of opioid-related deaths occurred in individuals over 50 years old, while people 60 and older saw an 11 percent increase in opioid fatalities since 2018.

“We have to turn these trends around – these are preventable deaths that leave traumatic, lasting grief in their wake,” Moore said. “We are grateful for the support of our task force members, law enforcement, clinicians, treatment providers, peers and family members who are helping to share this message, but we need this to resonate with every person in our community.”

The task force provided the following ways to reduce the risk of an overdose and death if you choose to use opioids:

  • Seek treatment: Local hospital emergency departments can connect patients to immediate medication-assisted treatment, a long-term care provider and a peer who can help with every stage of recovery. Ask for NY MATTERS.
  • Seek support: The Buffalo & Erie County Addictions Hotline is available 24/7 with referrals for individuals and their families. That number is 716-831-7007.
  • Carry Narcan and know how and when to use it: Text 716-225-5473 to have Narcan mailed to you for free.
  • Never use alone: Have Narcan and a friend with you who is not using drugs, or contact a service like Never Use Alone.
  • Test your drugs for fentanyl and xylazine even if you think it is cocaine or another substance that is not an opioid. Free test strips are available from the Erie County Department of Health. Call 716-858-7695 to find out more.
  • Bars, restaurants and other public establishments can order free materials from ECDOH, as available. Click here for an order form or call 716-858-7695.

Adam Gorski is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team in 2022. You can find more of his work here.