Although fighting the local opioid crisis is an uphill battle, Melanie Washington, behavioral health clinic coordinator at BlueCross BlueShield, said Western New York is fortunate to have so many resources.
“I think we have a ways to go,” she said. “But I think here in our county, we are really at the forefront of this issue.”
Both Niagara and Erie counties have seen recent decreases in the number of fatal opioid overdoses.
Washington said local overdose numbers are decreasing as naloxone (Narcan) is more widely distributed and more community members are trained on how to use it. Narcan is a medication used as emergency treatment for suspected or known opioid overdoses.
Dr. Paul Updike, medical director of chemical dependency services at Catholic Health, also said he’s optimistic about the improvement of the local opioid crisis. People are becoming more informed about how many people take opioids and the danger of addiction.
“We have made some pretty substantial progress in the whole stigma area, understanding that if you have an addiction it doesn’t make you some sort of terrible person,” he said.
But we shouldn’t stop there, said Avi Israel, founder and president of Save the Michaels of the World. His organization raises awareness of prescription and other drug addictions.
He said there needs to be more conversation about addiction in general, because even if the opioid crisis improves, the human race will always struggle with some kind of addiction problem.
In the past, cocaine addiction was at the forefront of people’s minds, he said. Today, the main issue is addiction to opioids. In the future, who knows what will happen.
“There’s always something that we get used to or tied to as humans,” Israel said. “We need to discuss (addiction). It gives us uncomfortable feelings so we don’t want to talk about it. But addiction does not destroy one person. It affects everybody around it.”