(Buffalo, N.Y.) – Erie County has created a task force to battle the growing problem of opioid addiction in the Buffalo area.
Some of the most commonly abused opioids include prescription painkillers such as Demerol, morphine, vicodin, Percocet and Percodan.
“This is actually a big problem and it’s growing every day,” said Dr. Gale Burstein, the Erie County commissioner of health and member of the task force.
Burstein appeared on the Buffalo Review Monday to discuss the issue.
State data revealed in 2014 that opioids, also including heroin and opium, have surpassed alcohol as the most common form of addiction for those enrolled in Erie County treatment programs.
“Our medical examiners office has been overwhelmed by the number of cases coming in with suspected drug-overdose related deaths,” said Burstein.
She said there were 128 opioid related deaths in the county in 2014 and by the end of October 2015, according to the most recent data available, there were 201 deaths, but many more are anticipated.
Heroin and opioids have combined to account for 39 percent of admissions to Erie County treatment facilities while alcoholism currently accounts for 35 percent, according to a report by the Buffalo News.
Berstein said doctors often prescribe strong, addictive painkillers without hesitation.
“There’s a problem with the information out there of the potential addictive risks of these opioid pain medications,” said Burstein. “Healthcare providers are not really being trained about the addictive risks of these medications.”
Burstein said doctors don’t often realize the dangers their patients may face from addiction to painkillers. She said some patients may also feel the drugs are safe because they are prescribed by a physician.
“You got a cocktail of deadly drugs and doctors don’t know very much about addiction,” said Avi Israel, a member of the opioid task force. “In medical school, none of the doctors get training when it comes to addiction.”
Israel has been trying to raise awareness about opioid abuse, since his son Michael committed suicide in 2011 after battling an addiction to painkillers.
Israel appeared on the Buffalo Review to discuss the dangers these drugs present to young people.
“I think if doctors knew or talked about the consequences it would’ve made a difference (for Michael),” said Israel. “Unfortunately it’s being talked about now because the death rate went up.”
The problem of opioid addiction is also prevalent on college campuses across the country, according to Paula Madrigal, the assistant director of prevention and health promotion at the Weigel Health Center at SUNY Buffalo State..
“Unfortunately it is present at Buffalo State and there are students who have to go into treatment,” she said.
Madrigal said the college has made efforts to provide resources for students.
For example, on Feb. 11, the Weigel Health Center will team up with Horizon Health Services for an opiate overdose workshop.
The program will teach students how to identify an overdose, administer Narcan (the anti-overdose drug) and help a victim receive medical attention.
The workshop will be held in the Classroom Building, in room B 309, at 11 a.m.
* Producers Daniel Almasi, Brett Ballachino and Maris Lambie contributed to this report.