by Annette Pinder

The Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force is warning community members about the alarming increase in opioid poisoning deaths involving cocaine. The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) presented data that confirms alarming trends from the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office. People in Erie County are dying nearly daily from cocaine containing fentanyl. Also, we may possibly have more opioid overdose deaths in 2023 than in any previous year. As of July 28, 2023, 245 residents died from a confirmed or suspected opioid overdose. In cases 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,” says 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.” In fact, the percentage of deaths in individuals ages 60 and older increased from 8% to 19% from 2018 to 2023. To date in 2023, 43% of opioid overdose deaths 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,” says 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 in 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 explains. “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 risk of fentanyl poisoning, and it could be the last thing you do.”

What can be done? Know that Narcan can reverse the effects of opioid poisoning. Text 716-225-5473 with your address to receive free Narcan by mail. If you are seeking treatment, local hospital emergency departments can refer individuals 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.

Additionally, the Buffalo & Erie County Addictions Hotline is available 24/7 with referrals for individuals and their families. Call 716-831-7007. Also, 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 are available from the ECDOH. Bars, restaurants, and other public establishments can also order free materials from ECDOH, as available. Visit for an order form, or call 716-858-7695.