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Following deadly opioid spike, Burke proposes million-dollar boost for treatment

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

In light of a recent spike in suspected opioid-related deaths in Erie County, an Erie County legislator is proposing an increase in funding to make treatment services more accessible to those who seek help but cannot afford it.

Legislator Patrick Burke submitted a resolution Thursday that calls for the transfer of $1 million from Erie County's fund balance to the Erie County Health Department.

"It's going to be dedicated for beds and access to treatment," he said during a news conference inside Erie County Hall. "Any money that isn't used will go back into the fund balance. This is one more measure to ensure that every took is available for this fight."

Last week, Erie County officials announced that seven deaths within a 24-hour span were suspected to be caused by drug overdoses. On Thursday, a source within Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz's office told WBFO that a total of 16 deaths since March 29 were now suspected to be linked to opioid overdoses. Ten of those deaths, the official added, have come within the past week.

Burke says treatment beds are out there but his proposal addresses the matter of making those beds open to addicts who otherwise cannot afford to get help.

"There are some beds available but if you're uninsured or underinsured, you don't have access," Burke said.

Legislature minority leader Thomas Loughran stood with Burke and expressed his support for the resolution. He called it a "good faith gesture" but hopes that other levels of government will increase their support for a nationwide epidemic.

"For us to focus on this problem and provide some leadership, hopefully it will stimulate the federal government and the state government to provide funds that we can get to the bottom of this problem," Loughran said.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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