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Campaign focused on the roots of heroin abuse

The surge in opiate drug overdoses has persuaded an alliance of health care agencies and insurers to revive the PainKillers Kill public awareness campaign.

Awareness of the problem has grown as first responders have pushed back against overdoses especially with Narcan. But it's hard when they are called on to save the same person twice, as happened one day last week.

The problem is mostly heroin, believed caused by crackdowns on prescription drug abuse cutting off that supply, with users gravitating to readily-available heroin.

"This is a white suburban problem, primarily," said Blue Cross Blue Shield Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications Gretchen Fierle.
"They may get heroin in the city, but this is clearly a suburban health issue, if you look at the statistics."

Fierle says an intense education effort made a difference two years ago and all of the parties in that campaign are back, trying to stem the overdose tide by making young people and families aware of the lethal risks of opiates and prescription drugs taken recreationally.

Blue Cross Blue Shield Chief Medical Officer Dr. Thomas Schenk says young people don't always want to quit, even when they overdose.

"They only feel that for a short time. They are very resilient. And, so, unless you can take advantage of that opportunity when they are on board to put them in a meaningful program of some sort to intervene, you just missed the opportunity and then you're just, honestly, waiting for the next bad thing to happen," Schenk told WBFO.

Schenk says some young people switch to heroin when the supply of prescription drugs dries up.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.