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Opioid Treatment Discussions Are Still Needed

It would have been easy in the midst of the onslaught of news regarding COVID-19 both locally and nationally to miss a concerning news release from Chautauqua County Health and Human Services officials late Wednesday.

Through March 1 and March 11, there were 12 overdoses in Chautauqua County. That’s almost as many as the county overdoses as the county averaged each month in 2019. Steve Cobb, Mental Health Association executive director, noted that fentanyl, a synthetic opioid pain reliever sold through illegal drug markets for its heroin-like effect, is now being mixed with drugs other than heroin as had been the norm through fentanyl’s introduction in Chautauqua County.

The good news is that none of the reported overdoses in March have been fatal thanks to the availability of Narcan. The bad news is that such an increase likely means it is only a matter of time before there are overdose deaths.

Chautauqua County has made progress in its battle with addiction, particularly compared to where the county was a few years ago. No one can know for certain what has caused this increase in overdoses, but we do know that it’s important for the public and for our elected officials not to lose sight of the fact that we still have a problem with opioids in our community. We’ve had largely good news on the opioid abuse front in recent years, and perhaps the good news that treatment options are opening locally and that overdose deaths have largely been decreasing have lulled decision makers into thinking the problem needed less attention. Obviously, that is not the case.

Christine Schuyler, county Health and Human Servicse director, could easily have put the rash of overdoses on the back burner given the ongoing situation with COVID-19. We’re glad she didn’t. COVID-19 preparations and precautions will dominate the news for a while, but people like Schuyler and Cobb serve a vital role in making sure attention is focused on treating an opioid epidemic that wreaks havoc on the lives of countless county residents.

Once COVID-19 subsides, the county should step up the public discussion discussion of opioid treatment. It’s time to give the public a better understanding of the opioid treatment infrastructure that is available in the county and to refocus the efforts of lawmakers and the health care community on the next steps that may need to be taken.

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