Erie County Executive warns of potent fentanyl after 7 overdose deaths in 1 day.

There was no time for mincing words this week as Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz tried to issue a dire warning about a deadly drug in Western New York.

“IMPORTANT WARNING: I have been informed by (Erie County Department of Health)’s Medical Examiner’s Office of (seven) overdose deaths this morning and early afternoon alone,” he said in a social media message Monday. “There appears to be a VERY deadline form of fentanyl on the streets right now.”

On Tuesday he said two sets of victims died in each of two locations -- a man and a woman at one, two men at another  -- with three people overall dying in Buffalo, three in Tonawanda and one in Lackawanna.

It is believed the deaths were caused by fentanyl-laced narcotics including crack cocaine (four people), powder cocaine (two people) and one from a combination of heroin and crack cocaine.

“Another person using Narcan may not be enough to save a person’s life as these deaths may be instantaneous,” he added, referencing a nose spray that can be administered to help save someone’s life if they’re overdosing on an opioid or other strong drug.

The Erie County Department of Health confirmed the deaths.

“We urge all residents to use extreme caution. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is significantly more potent than heroin or morphine. Even a small amount can be fatal. The current batch appears to be especially dangerous,” ECDOH said.

Just last month, Erie County announced a revamped Overdose Prevention Task Force to combat deadly drug use, with Poloncarz saying the team’s new name “signals their commitment to action and a renewed focus on preventing overdoses and saving lives. I am proud to see how this task force continues to adapt and grow in response to the opioid epidemic.”

Overdose deaths and those associated with opioids have increased every year for the past five years, with 435 deaths in 2023 and 366 opioid-related overdoses in the same year. Through the end of April, there have already been 151 opioid-related overdose deaths and 165 overdose deaths reported this year.

In a surprising trend, overdoses among our older neighbors, ages 60 and above, have nearly doubled from 2018 to 2021 (13% of the total up to 24% of the total) with a year-over-year increase noted, up 21% in 2023 alone, the county says.

The largest increase in overdose deaths have been among the Black community, doubling from 2018 (13% of total) to 25% of total in 2021, with the trend increasing each year, hitting 32% of all deaths associated with overdoses in 2023.

The zip codes with the most fatal overdoses, as of last month, are the city’s East Side (14211), Upper East Side (14215); Grant-Ferry (14213); Broadway (14212) and Black Rock (14207). The county also reports that 71% of overdose deaths last year were associated with cocaine, up from 48% in 2020.

Poloncarz reminded people that the Erie County Department of Health offers fentanyl and xylazine test strips for free in addition to Narcan training for those who want to be prepared to step up in an emergency.

Current Memorial for 5/14 Victims

Gallery Credit: Amber Healey

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