In one 24-hour period in mid-July, 10 people overdosed on heroin in Buffalo. In March, $3.5 million worth of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine — about 140 pounds in total — were seized in Buffalo, one of the largest narcotics busts in U.S. history.
During his time as U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York, William Hochul has seen heroin and prescription opiate abuse become the leading cause of death in his district. Now, he’s trying to reverse that trend.
Hochul, together with Mary Lou Leary, deputy director of State, Local and Tribal Affairs for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, will give a lecture titled “Safeguarding Communities Against America’s Leading Killer” at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy.
Hochul said his main goal in the lecture is to educate the public about the threat opiates pose to the well-being of individuals and the public.
“We can’t pretend that the epidemic does not exist,” he said. “There is a killer in our midst — sometimes as near as our own medicine cabinets. Other times, it’s friends of our school-age children, the corner drug dealer or the medical professional who are basically first enslaving an entire generation of people, and then ultimately killing them.”
The Western District of New York was one of the first districts to notice the uptick in opiate use, and it held a conference to discuss strategies for education, prevention and rehabilitation, Hochul said.
Since then, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has arranged for public education, training for law enforcement, parents and medical professionals, school mailings, TV programs and press conferences to raise awareness on the issue.
Though drugs and synthetic opiates such as heroin and fentanyl, respectively, are illegal, Hochul said, many people who become addicted to those drugs first came into contact with opiates through legal prescriptions.
These prescriptions might be written for injuries, pain during recovery from surgery, or chronic pain due to an illness, but they can lead to opiate addiction when their use is not carefully monitored. Because prescription opiates create a similar high to heroin and other illegal opiates and are often harder to obtain, addiction to legal medications can sometimes lead to illegal drug use, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“We’ve had well over half a dozen medical professionals that we’ve prosecuted [for issuing improper or illegal prescriptions],” Hochul said. “In these instances, we consider the people we’re targeting as nothing more than drug dealers wearing lab coats.”
Although Hochul and other government offices are working to combat this trend, Hochul said that the fight is far from over.
“[This is] a very unforgiving adversary,” he said.