Pubdate: Tue, 03 Jan 2017
Source: Buffalo News (NY)
Copyright: 2017 The Buffalo News


The opioid epidemic ripping throughout the nation and our own backyard
will not be stopped without the multi-pronged approach that is thankfully
occurring on all levels of government.

Local, state and national leaders have stepped up to provide assistance.
Police, fire departments, ambulance crews, hospital staffs and others are
on the front lines of this fight.

Last month proved deadly in Erie County, with public officials reporting
at least 42 suspected opioid overdose deaths, half of them since Dec. 19
and six alone on Dec. 27.

Erie County seemed destined to end the year with 357 confirmed or
suspected opioid-related deaths. The previous year saw 256 such deaths,
with 128 in 2014.

The soaring total could have been worse, according to local officials,
were it not for initiatives undertaken by government, health officials and
the medical community.

The latest, President Obama's signing of the 21st Century Cures Act,
provides $1 billion in new funding targeting opioid abuse. The funding
drew bipartisan support from a usually fractured Congress.

It will support efforts around the country. Local and state agencies have
already been hard at work. Erie County has its Opiate Epidemic Task Force,
and Crisis Services began a 24-hour hotline -- 831-7007 -- for addicts and
family members. The governor and State Legislature enacted legislation
that will allow addicts to receive treatment covered by insurance.

And I-STOP legislation created a computer database that offers a real-time
prescription monitoring registry. Doctors are required to consult it to
make sure a patient does not already have a prescription for the
particular medication.

First responders and citizens, particularly the loved ones of addicts,
have been trained in the use of the opioid antidote Narcan, which has
saved many lives.

Prescription opioid painkillers are often where addiction starts. When an
injury or ailment causes pain, a painkiller such as OxyContin may be
prescribed. That prescription may be filled and refilled. Some patients
find themselves addicted, and then when they can no longer afford
painkillers, heroinoften becomes a much cheaper substitute.

The dangers of addiction get worse when heroin is mixed with fentanyl, an
extremely powerful synthetic opiate that is usually reserved for cancer
patients. Its effects are similar to those of heroin, but fentanyl is much
stronger and when added to heroin can produce fatal results, as is
suspected in the recent spate of Erie County deaths and of those across
the nation.

As The News reported, laboratories in China produce fentanyl and
fentanyl-related compounds. This deadly concoction is then sold to drug
trafficking organizations in Mexico, Canada and the United States,
according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The fentanyl compounds can be mixed into or sold as heroin, leaving the
buyer uncertain of the strength of any dose. The end result can be death,
which can come so quickly that a user may be found with a needle still in
a vein.

The rise of overdose deaths across the nation -- more than 33,00 in 2015,
according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- has
catalyzed government, politicians, law enforcement and the medical and
nonprofit communities. The determination to ratchet up efforts to fight
this epidemic should strengthen in the new year.
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