By Mike Pettinella
In 2017, 585,000 worldwide.
In 2020, 15 in Genesee County and seven in Orleans County.
Those figures represent the number of people who have died from an opioid overdose – staggering figures that reveal the extent of the epidemic that continues to devastate society.
Healthcare and mental health professionals in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties on the front lines of this scourge came together on Wednesday afternoon at Austin Park for the annual International Overdose Awareness Day observance.
Representatives of a dozen agencies plus area residents whose lives have been affected by opioid use attended the event, which was to raise awareness and to remember those who have been lost due to an overdose.
Genesee/Orleans Public Health Director Paul Pettit shared that in 2020, 58 people from Genesee County went to the emergency room last year and another 38 from Orleans County went to the ER due to drug overdoses – both up from 2019.
“That can be attributed to COVID; people were isolated and feeling alone,” he said.
Pettit had encouraging words about the efforts of the GOW Opioid Task Force, an organization comprised of people from various sectors of the community.
“We’ve been working together for many years and are making great strides,” he said, mentioning an increase in the access to care and the amount of Narcan training being done. “We want to get more people trained. We have a medication that can save lives.”
He said that since 2018, about 3,500 people have been trained.
“We’re making gains but we still have a ways to go,” he said.
John Bennett, executive director of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, spoke about the impact of Overdose Awareness Day throughout the world, noting that events such as the one in Batavia are taking place throughout the state and in around 40 countries.
International Overdose Awareness Day was created in 2001 by Sally J. Finn at The Salvation Army in St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia.
“As we come together today, not only think about those locally who have lost their lives, but this is a worldwide problem that’s killed over a million people,” he said.
Agencies taking part in the event included GO Health, Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Erie County Health Department, Spectrum Human Services, The Recovery Station, Wyoming County Mental Health, Fidelis Care, Rochester Regional Healthy, Cornell Cooperative Extension and Horizon Health.
GOW Opioid Task Force Coordinator Christen Ferraro said the Old County Courthouse will be lit up on Aug. 31 and signs commemorating awareness day will be placed in the front of the building.