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Erie County allocates $235K to Evergreen Health for opioids epidemic

Erie County legislators are still grappling with how to spend a half-million dollars to quickly combat the lethal opioid epidemic.

How to spend the money has been very controversial within the Legislature. Discussion continued in an extended caucus before the legislative session.

Lawmakers ultimately decided to give $235,000 to Evergreen Health and have another discussion Thursday morning, with a special session Thursday afternoon, to talk about the remainder of the money.

"We saw government at work and we heard from a lot of people who are passionate about what's going on and I appreciate my colleagues willingness to have further discussion and further evaluations," said Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo, "sort of take this into our hands and really get down to business and get down to the business of awarding the money to organizations that we feel are on the front lines and can actually have an impact right away."

A variety of different groups lobbied legislators about how the money should be spent and sat through the actual legislative session to watch. Save the Michaels founder Avi Israel was looking for some of the funding, but said he had no problems with Evergreen getting $235,000 with three people dying every two days from overdoses..

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond
The Erie County Legislature meets again Thursday to decide how to spend funds meant for opioid treatment.

"It's not going to cause any problem because the rest of the money was going to be given to entities that were not going to produce anything immediately," Israel said. "We lobbied over here for separation of the money because we think Evergreen has an impact that will affect the community immediately."

Israel's group also works to get inpatient treatment for those with drug problems. Diane Wadhwams said Save the Michaels helped get her son into rehab, after a relapse.

"We were in court. We were actually in the courtroom with the judge from Clarence walking him through Drug Court when Mr. Israel sent a text message to my phone that they had a bed for him the next day," said Wadhwams. "My son has been there now for two weeks. He sounds fantastic. I talked to him about three times. The problem is that it's six hours away."

Wadhwams' son was arrested for driving while using. The son was an athlete and college graduate who was given opioids after surgery for a sports injury and slipped into addiction a year ago. The family live in the suburbs with two medical profession parents and private school educations and he fell into trouble.

Wadhwams said there are not enough local treatment beds, despite a number being added.

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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