Evergreen Health Hosts International Overdose Awareness Day in Buffalo and Jamestown, NY


Last week Evergreen Health hosted two events for International Overdose Awareness Day (Aug. 31), where we asked members of the community to join us in remembrance of those we’ve lost, to learn about what an overdose is and how to prevent it, and to learn about how to combat the opioid epidemic.

What are opioids? 
Opioids are medications that relieve pain. They reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and affect those brain areas controlling emotion, which diminishes the effects of a painful stimulus. Medications that fall within this class include hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin), oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet), morphine (e.g., Kadian, Avinza), codeine, and related drugs.

We heard powerful voices during these conversations; Evergreen’s staff told stories of clients that we’ve lost and helped, clients themselves told stories of loss and hope, community members came to recall the vitality of their loved ones before the epidemic took them, and political leaders joined us to listen and discuss the first steps our government is taking to stop this growing epidemic.

Evergreen Health staff with  Jamestown, NY Police Chief Snelling at an International Overdose Awareness Day at the Chautauqua Mall.

Many members of the community came to remember their loved ones and warn against denial; asking the audience to not fall victim to the falsely belief that the epidemic won’t affect you personally. In Erie County alone, the epidemic claims roughly 10 lives a week, stealing potential from our community, clawing back population gains, and leaving dozens of family members in grief at the loss of their mother, father, son, daughter, best friends –  the list goes on. The sudden, and fast paced loss of life, prompted Eire County Executive Mark Poloncarz to address the issue:

“We’re averaging about 10 deaths a week of Erie County residents as a result of the opiate epidemic,” Poloncarz said. “I want you to think about this, folks. It took a lot of years for Erie County to start seeing population gain after the drops in the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000. Finally, the population came back.”

Poloncarz went on to announce the creation of an Erie County Opioid Taskforce lead by County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale R. Burstein.

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Harm reduction can reduce toll of substance abuse

Source: This op-ed originally appeared in The Buffalo News, and was written by Emma Fabian, Evergreen Health’s Director of Substance User Health Policy. 

By Emma Fabian

Each morning I pick up a newspaper or log on to peruse online articles, and many of the headlines are about substance use. To be fair, it’s my professional responsibility to stay well versed on the topic, so I am particularly drawn to these stories. But I have a feeling that most Western New Yorkers these days would have to actually work to be unaware of the lack of treatment beds, the trend of heroin laced with deadly fentanyl or the stretches of days wherein Erie County lost 11 and 23 people.

These epidemic proportions are enough to make some wonder: is the world becoming increasingly unstable or do we just have more mechanisms for noticing instabilities that have been around for a long time?

This country has not historically confronted drug use effectively; most drug policies have failed and adversely affected marginalized communities and people of color. Couple that with the tragic number of lives lost in Western New York recently, and it’s not surprising people read headlines perplexedly.

In the face of this opiate crisis, Western New York and communities across the country have the opportunity – responsibility, really – to adopt the kind of paradigm shift that led to decreased HIV/AIDS transmissions during the 1980s and 1990s and helped people live longer, healthier lives. A shift of this magnitude involves addressing programming, policy and public opinion. This country did not get through the height of the HIV crisis by perpetuating the same types of traditional treatments despite low outcomes, refusing to fund alternative types of care and stigmatizing individuals as moral failures.

In actuality, we are already on a path toward a more effective response to substance use here. Harm reduction, substance use treatment that reduces the negative consequences associated with drug use, is becoming more recognized as a viable option. Every day at Evergreen Health, staff and participants demonstrate how harm reduction can help change and save lives. The agency is home to a large syringe exchange program and recently received funding from the state Department of Health to implement a substance user health hub. This, in and of itself, is a big step forward for the community. Furthermore, Erie County has developed a productive task force addressing the opiate epidemic.

If stakeholders in our community continue to think outside the box and forget cookie-cutter mentalities, we will get through, as we have before.

Today at 6 p.m., Evergreen Health will lead a public event at 67 Prospect Ave. to remember clients and community members who have passed away from overdoses and raise awareness about services many may not know about.

Emma Fabian is director of substance user health policy at Evergreen Health of Buffalo.

Are you a substance user or know someone who is? We’re here to talk if you need us. Learn more and contact us by clicking here or calling us at 716.845.0172.