BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Back in August, Erie County launched an entire task force to help curb the growing opioid epidemic.
Hundreds of people were dying of overdoses, and organizers brought together leaders from every community to pitch in and help.
Six months later, it’s announced the epidemic is killing one person a day. Believe it or not, that’s an improvement.
Last year including a wave of action to combat Erie County’s growing epidemic: Bills signed by the governor, an entire task force dedicated to stopping daily deaths.
All the while, overdose after overdose ripped apart families at a rate causing literal backlogs at the county morgue.
The CEO of an addiction center, Mid-Erie Counseling and Treatment put it this way: “It feels a little bit like putting out a forest fire with a squirt gun,” said Elizabeth Mauro.
Last year’s epidemic was the deadliest to date. Erie County has confirmed 240 people died from an opioid overdose. Another 80 are suspected, meaning addiction killed 320 people in 2016.
Fast forward six months, and so far this year, it’s believed one person in Erie County has died every day, officials said Thursday.
“That is unacceptable. That is tragic,” said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn. “And we as public officials have an obligation to try and do something about this.”
That’s why Flynn said Thursday he will dedicate additional resources to the legal fight against opioids.
The program has a clear focus.
“If you’re a dealer, if you’re another individual in this supply chain that are providing drugs, which is killing people, you need to be prosecuted,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. “It’s as simple as that. … Your business model is one that is going to be destroyed, and you will be put behind bars.”
But are these and other programs like the taskforce working?
“Throw everything on the wall and see what sticks,” Poloncarz said, referring to the Great Depression approach of FDR. “Not everything is going to work, and some things are going to work, and you try to do more.”
Most agree it’s an important facet of the fight.
“It took us a good 20-25 years to get here,” said County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein. “And this is not going to end in a year’s time. I believe that we have made many gains. We have made multiple small steps that, collectively, have meant huge gains.”
Because they’re shifting resources, and focusing on one particular crime, Flynn said the new attorney will not be an added cost to the department.
Meanwhile, a report from county administration about the taskforce is expected in the spring.