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County legislators approve first investments of opioid million

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Erie County lawmakers voted Thursday to approve plans for how to spend one million dollars to curb an ongoing opioid addiction crisis. More will be discussed. Meanwhile, the legislator who first introduced the idea of the million-dollar boost is frustrated by what he considers stalling by his peers.

Among the provisions passed Thursday was the creation of six positions in the Medical Examiner's Office. Three more new jobs are under consideration, two in the Department of Mental Health and the other in the Sheriff's Office. Those positions, which will be discussed in committee hearings next week, would focus on providing addicts with assistance for long-term recovery.

Law enforcers from various departments have previously argued that they cannot simply arrest their way out of the opioid crisis.

"They might get arrested and go in the Holding Center and they go through a detox and they have no choice. They get off the drugs while they go in there. But when they go out into the community after they get released, they go right back on," said Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo. "What we're looking to do is have some type of program, so that people are educated and they don't go right back into using drugs and they maintain their sobriety, get off it, and end up being more productive members of society."

Legislators also voted to set aside $500,000 for an expedited Request For Proposals from the not-for-profit and private sectors. Lorigo suggested other institutions may have ideas that would prove effective.

But Patrick Burke, the lawmaker who in April proposed giving one million dollars directly to the Erie County Health Department, considers the current plan "watered down." He also suggests his peers are moving too slowly and are thus delaying the ability to provide help for addicts.

"They are determined to control every part of this, and penny pinch and not let it go," Burke said. "I don't understand why they're doing it that way. I think it fits into their political philosophy."

He also expressed resentment toward passage of an alternative bill that replaced his while he was out of town. But he voted Thursday in favor of the plan, saying it's a step forward after weeks of delay.

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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