Acting Niagara County Sheriff Michael J. Filicetti, along with all Niagara County Law Enforcement partners, reported that drug overdose cases have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of drug overdose cases dispatched by the Sheriff’s Office from January 1, 2020 – April 6, 2020 has increased over 35% for the same time frame in 2019.
These overdose cases result in an EMS and law enforcement response to render aid for the stricken person and are also taxing our potentially overburdened hospitals in Niagara County. Several factors could be contributing to this rise, including the adjustment of methadone clinic hours, decreased availability of methadone or other synthetic treatments for opioid abuse, a heightened sense of anxiety and job loss.
Often substance abuse leads to other crisis situations in the life of an abuser, including family problems, other criminal acts or in extreme cases, overdose and possibly death. People are urged to contact the Niagara County Crisis Services Hotline at (716) 285-3515 for early intervention and assistance with these or any problem relating to substance abuse.
Family members and friends are also encouraged to be observant for any signs of a known substance abuser slipping back into a pattern of abuse. Everyone should be aware of some signs of an overdose:
• Person is not responsive
• Fingertips or lips turn blue or gray
• Breathing is slow, shallow or has stopped
• Person is gurgling or making snoring noises
Acting Sheriff Filicetti says “we need to keep an eye on
our loved ones, friends and neighbors during this pandemic.
“Please watch out for signs of obvious drug use or depression that could contribute to an overdose.” Filicetti stressed that help is available, including the crisis hotline for early intervention and calling 911 in any emergency. In the event that you call 911, do not leave the victim alone. Multiple doses of Narcan may be required to reverse the effects of the overdose. In New York State, the Good Samaritan Law states that anyone who in good faith seeks care for themselves or someone experiencing a life-threatening emergency will not be charged or prosecuted for a drug or alcohol related offense, including possession of drug paraphernalia, with some exceptions.
Laura Kelemen, Director of the Niagara County Department of Mental Health notes that “fear and anxiety, as well as loneliness and isolation are frequent triggers for alcohol or other drug use. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use currently, know that you are not alone. There is help, there is hope. Please reach out to Crisis Services 24-hour phone line at (716) 285-3515 for free, confidential assistance. We can connect you with support.”
Despite what people may believe or have been told, treatment providers in our community remain OPEN and remain committed to meeting the needs of individuals in our community. Most programs are offering services delivered via phone or video conference, often with staff working remotely. New clients are asked to contact each program directly by phone to ask about how to get involved in treatment. Self-help groups and peer support providers are also hosting online or phone support groups. Crisis Services or the Sheriff’s Office can provide people with further specific information.
Niagara County District Attorney Caroline Wojtazsek, a member of the Niagara County Opiate Task Force Law Enforcement Sub-committee, advised that “it probably time to reconvene the task force and assess strategies based upon this escalation.”