COVID-19 has preoccupied our County and Country for six months, and almost to the exclusion of most other issues – but that’s what a deadly global pandemic can do.
Prior to this past March, we were justifiably alarmed by the increase in hospitalizations and deaths for opioid overdoses to the point that Governor Cuomo created a State Task Force to formulate strategies to deal with the epidemic, and, for some time, the hospitalizations and overdose deaths were inching downward.
Unfortunately, one of the unforeseen effects of the pandemic was that the social isolation and non-stop COVID-19 coverage have served to reverse this trend. Spectrum News cites officials in Niagara, Chautauqua and Erie Counties who have reported an increase in overdose deaths as of mid-April. The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office released that, from early January to early April, dispatches to deal with drug overdose cases have risen by 35 percent. In the frenzy to, first, limit the spread of the Coronavirus, and then find safe ways to re-open businesses and kick-start the economy to the degree possible, the problems of the addicted have been neglected, even made worse!
It’s similar to the battle to defeat the Coronavirus, where failing to use precautionary measures, (social distancing, frequent hand washing, and face-coverings) results in the hidden enemy resurging and taking more of our loved ones from us. However, leaders in our County recognized this fact and have authorized an event focused on assuring that the other enemy, “Addiction and Overdose”, is not forgotten, and which encourages expanded treatment for addicts, reducing the stigma of addiction, and prompting more people to talk about this issue. In concert with other rallies all over the world, it’s coming to Lockport on August 31st.
Niagara County’s contribution to International Overdose Awareness Day will take place at Veteran's Park on East Avenue, starting at 6:30 PM on Monday August 31st. Per the City of Lockport, there will be a maximum of fifty in-person attendees, face masks and hand sanitizer will be provided, and six-foot social distancing is required -- but it can also be viewed live online via StreamYard streaming studio. Anyone can participate by linking in at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RE5FpJLs_wU. People with hearing impairments can also fully benefit from the program, as the streaming will have Realtime Translation open captions, which provide a running transcription of what is being said.
Tom Byrne, a local recovering heroin and opioid addict, who helped organize the event, has informed me that the event will offer: information on how to obtain free Narcan (emergency opioid overdose treatment) Training; a number of speakers from different backgrounds who were affected by overdose; and a Candlelight Vigil with a bell-ringing ceremony at dusk for every life lost to overdose in Niagara and surrounding counties in 2019.
Since International Overdose Awareness Day was created in Melbourne, Australia in 2001, it has been held each August 31st, and the observances have expanded to more venues each year. What has become ever more clear is that addiction does not discriminate. There is no single, easily identified face for addiction. With the world we live in today and the destruction wrought by the opioid epidemic, far too many families everywhere are being affected by overdose. That includes right here in our backyard, in our region – especially in Niagara County. Because of this, the need to raise awareness is greater than ever! We hope you will recognize this, and decide to join us, to strive that not only COVID-19 gets defeated, but we also take out its little brother, OVERDOSE.
Sarah K. Lanzo is the Director of Independent Living of Niagara County, a member of the Western New York Independent Living Inc. Family of Agencies. They empower individuals with any disabilities to gain the information and resources needed to improve their quality of life and participate in society on an equal basis. For more information about ILNC's services and programs please contact: (716) 284-4131, ext. 200.