Skip to main content

“We have to turn these opioid trends around – we’ve done it before and we can do it again” - Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force shares poisoning death data to date

Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force shares poisoning death data to date; asks for community support in preventing overdoses and deaths.

Monday’s (August 7) quarterly meeting of the Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force was an opportunity to warn community members about an alarming increase in opioid poisoning deaths with cocaine involvement.

Nearly 100 task force members listened as the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) presented data and alarming trends from the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office. The key messages: cocaine containing fentanyl is killing people nearly every day in Erie County, and a higher number of opioid overdose deaths than in any previous year is possible for 2023. Through July 28, 2023, 245 residents have died of a confirmed or suspected opioid overdose. For cases in 2023 where toxicology results were available, 81% had cocaine present – twice the percentage from 2021.

“We have reports for every opioid overdose death in the county, and what stands out is that many appear to be completely unintentional,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein. “Also, we are seeing an increase in the proportion of these deaths occurring in people who are in their 50s, 60s and 70s.”

The percentage of deaths in persons ages 60 and older increased from 8% to 19% from 2018 to 2023. In 2023 to date, 43% of opioid overdose deaths have occurred in individuals ages 50 and older. 

“We have to turn these trends around – these are preventable deaths that leave traumatic, lasting grief in their wake,” said Opiate Epidemic Task Force Director Cheryll Moore. “We are grateful for the support of our task force members, law enforcement, clinicians, treatment providers, peers and family members who are helping to share this message, but we need this to resonate with every person in our community.”

Opioid-related deaths associated with fentanyl and cocaine have increased dramatically over the past six years. In addition to 81% to date for 2023, 57% of opioid-related deaths in 2022 involved cocaine, compared to fewer than 20% of cases in 2016.

“These deaths occur with people who use cocaine occasionally or irregularly,” Moore explained. “We are being as direct as we can when we say this: if you are thinking of taking a line of cocaine or smoking a crack rock, you are at a deadly risk of a fentanyl poisoning, and it could be the last thing you do.”

Narcan can reverse the effects of an opioid poisoning. Text 716-225-5473 with your address to receive free Narcan by mail.

The full presentation from this meeting will be available online this week.

We want to keep you alive.

Reduce your risk of overdose and death if you choose to use opioids, cocaine or other risky substances.

  • Seek treatment. Local hospital emergency departments can connect patients to immediate medication assisted treatment, a long-term care provider and a peer who can help with every stage of recovery. Ask for NY MATTERS.
  • Seek support. The Buffalo & Erie County Addictions Hotline is available 24/7 with referrals for individuals and their families. Call (716) 831-7007.
  • Carry Narcan, and know how and when to use it. Text (716) 225-5473 to have Narcan mailed to you for free.
  • Never use alone. Have Narcan and a friend with you who is not using drugs, or contact a service like Never Use Alone (
  • Test your drugs for fentanyl and xylazine even if you think it is cocaine or another substance that is not an opioid. Free test strips available from the Erie County Department of Health. Call (716) 858-7695.
  • Bars, restaurants and other public establishments can order free materials from ECDOH, as available. Visit for order form or call (716) 858-7695.
Chart showing proportions of opioid related deaths in Erie County by age group
Graph showing overdose deaths in Erie County through August 2023
Graph showing percentage of opioid related deaths associated with fentanyl and cocaine in Erie County through August 2023