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Health & Wellness

Erie County Health Commissioner: Cocaine has an increasing presence in opioid overdose deaths

Opioid Cocaine overdose graph
Erie County Health Department
The Erie County Health Department released these statistics on opioid-related overdose deaths and the role of cocaine in many of them. Some overdose cases were still awaiting toxicology tests, as indicated in the graph.

Erie County health officials say it’s still too soon to tell whether opioid overdose deaths will trend upward or downward from 2020. But one noticeable trend is the growing presence of cocaine use in relation to many opioid fatalities.

During Monday’s meeting of the Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force, it was reported 141 opioid fatalities have been confirmed so far this year, with 116 cases still pending. Among the known fatalities, nearly half of the victims were found to have mixtures of fentanyl and cocaine.

Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein suggested cocaine use is up in Erie County.

“We believe that people think that cocaine is a party drug, it's not really a substance of abuse, and were using cocaine just to make themselves feel good, that it's something fun to do, and not realizing that most of the cocaine in our community is spiked with fentanyl, and then dying of an opioid overdose,” she said.

Last year, 246 fatal opioid overdoses were recorded in Erie County. That was an increase of 56 percent from the previous year. Fentanyl remains, far and wide, the leading substance involved in deadly overdoses, but other opiate use is decreasing, according to the county’s statistics.

“Heroin is accounting for a much smaller proportion of the drugs found in drug overdose tox screens,” Burstein said. “And then benzodiazepines are also shrinking, and other opioids are also shrinking. But what is surprising is that cocaine is on the rise.”