For International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, the Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force is providing guidance for media outlets and reporters, health care providers, law enforcement agencies, the justice system, community organizations and the general public to use person-centered, de-stigmatizing language in communications, professional settings and everyday conversation.

“When talking about issues of opioid use, substance use and overdoses, words matter,” said Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein. “Stigmatizing language can be direct, like a health care provider referring to a patient as an ‘addict.’ It can be casual, like referring to someone in conversation as a ‘junkie’ or ‘user.’ That language can also be subtle, but just as damaging, as when a media outlet uses phrases like ‘dirty’ or ‘clean’ in reporting about toxicology results.”

As part of its media outreach, Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force is offering this guide from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) on using person-first, science-based language:

“We have come a long way in recent years toward reducing stigma and negative bias in communications about substance use disorder,” said Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force Director Cheryll Moore. “However, each week there is another reference in media or culture that goes against the work we are doing to destigmatize this chronic and deadly disease.”

People with substance use disorder may already be managing this medical issue, and other social, psychological, economic and familial challenges. “We are asking our community to add a sense of empathy into the way they talk about substance use disorder,” added Dr. Burstein. “Compassion goes a long way.”


The Erie County Department of Health and Task Force Members will transform the front lawn of Old County Hall with a display to remember loved ones lost to overdose on Tuesday, August 31. This coincides with other events happening globally, acknowledging the widespread nature of substance use disorder.

A memorial display will be set up for the day at the corner of Franklin and Church streets in downtown Buffalo, on the lawn of Old County Hall at 92 Franklin. This event is part of outreach by the Family & Consumer, Support & Advocacy Section of the Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force.

WHAT: International Overdose Awareness Day
WHEN: Tuesday, August 31, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; closing prayer at 6 p.m.
WHERE: 92 Franklin Street, front law of Old County Hall at Franklin and Church Streets, Downtown Buffalo
MEDIA CONTACT: Kara Kane,, 716-858-4941

Attendees must follow physical distancing guidance and wear a mask or cloth face covering.

· Register for ECDOH Opioid Trainings:
· Text for Narcan: 716-225-5473
· Request an Emergency Narcan Box for your business: 716-858-7695