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Despite recent overdose deaths, officials cite progress in opioid battle

WBFO file photo

It appears five area residents died over the weekend due to drug overdoses. While local officials are concerned about the development, they say the number of overdose deaths has dropped significantly since the height of the opioid crisis.

Erie County health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein offered a look at the official numbers.

"In 2018, we have 130 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths and 75 suspected deaths, that are pending confirmation," said Burstein, who expects final toxicology results in the next six weeks. 

"That is a big change compared to 2017 where we had 251 opioid overdose deaths and 2016 where we had 301."

While the causes of this weekend's deaths won't be officially known for some weeks, Burstein offered a general assessment.

"A product comes into our area, to the streets. People sell it. There's no way to know what the actual contents are and so, it's always Russian Roulette when people buy drugs off the street."

Burstein sees progress. The availability of Narcan is saving people from dying on the spot. Education efforts are highlighting the risks of opioid use. Stricter controls are limiting prescriptions of opiates.

"We know that the only evidence-based effective, longterm road to recovery is with medication-assisted treatment," Burstein said.

"We've worked hard to expand access to medication-assisted treatment."



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.