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Packed house fills North Park Theater for town meeting on the drug epidemic

Mike Desmond/WBFO News

The North Park Theater was packed Thursday night for a town hall meeting on the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic. The meeting was sponsored by Save the Michaels of the World, an organization formed to deal with the over-prescription of drugs following the death of 21-year-old Michael Israel.

Last year, Buffalo police used 300 doses of Narcan on overdosing individuals to bring them back to life. In less than three months this year, officers have used their Narcan 170 times. On Thursday, health officials confirmed the 19th fatal overdose of this year.

Politicians, experts and the public were in the theater grappling with the surge of pills. One of those attending was Sandra Robinson, a parent who has lived through years of her daughter's addiction and trips to rehab. Robinson says it all started with her daughter using pills to deal with depression.

"She came home, she started to use again, was arrested. Drug court is an amazing, amazing thing, They really tried hard but she was young and she wasn't ready. So she went through drug court, she went through 16 treatment programs and she finally pleaded out... and did her time, and now she's down in Florida in another rehab program," said Robinson.

Police and other first responders have kept the death toll from rising higher and faster, because of the frequent and quick use of Narcan, sometimes several times in one day for the same person.

Jessica Emke was there because she was addicted to prescription drugs worried about telling her children.

"This addiction starts through prescription drugs. I'm going to be more cautious as to  what my children are prescribed. During my age growing up, there wasn't that, they didn't actually check to see, 'Is this going to cause her addiction in the long run?' They were just prescribing me what they thought reasonable," Emke said.

After relapsing three times, Emke has been clean for a year. Florence Limina was there for a different reason. She needs prescribed pain drugs to get through the day. Limina worries there will be new restrictions on the pain pills that will make it hard for her to get her medication.

"I didn't ask to get put on pain pills. The doctors did it. For me, it's helpful. Teenagers shouldn't be taking them to get high, absolutely not. Should take them to take the pain away. That's about the only reason they should be taken," said Limina.

Controls are now tighter on prescription drugs because five local doctors have been arrested and convicted for illegally writing drug prescriptions, as have other health care personnel.

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.
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