By Tracey Drury  |  Buffalo Business First  |  Oct 26, 2018, 3:22am

Local efforts making a dent in opioid crisis, experts say

Dr. Gale Burstein
Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County health commissioner, was a panelist at a forum on the opioid epidemic.

As the region sees progress in reducing overdoses and deaths related to opioid addiction, health providers are working with government officials to expand access.

And those efforts are seeing results, with prescriptions for opiates on the decline, more beds open for treatment and novel ways of providing care in the emergency department and in outpatient programs. 

That’s according to officials of a range of groups who came together Oct. 16 for a State of the Region event sponsored by Phillips Lytle LLP.  

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein talked about the decline last year in overdose rates, a trend that continued in 2018. Opioid-related deaths, unfortunately, are the only good surveillance point to measure progress.

“There are so many more people who, thank goodness, are alive but struggling with addiction, but there’s no good way to count them,” she said. 

But lots of work remains, especially in reducing misconceptions that overdoses happen only in the city. In fact, nearly as many happen in the suburbs and rural areas.

Providers at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and Dent Neurologic Institute talked about how they have reduced dependency on opioids. At Roswell Park, Dr. Emese Zsiros said an ultra-conservative program drastically reduced the process and how many pills are prescribed after surgeries, but there were surprisingly few complaints and calls from patients.

Dent has relied on its growing medical cannabis division, which helped reduce the need for opioids.

“We view cannabis as potentially game-changing for our patients,” said Steven Przybyla, general counsel and executive vice president of business development.

Physicians from Catholic Health, Kaleida Health and Erie County Medical Center talked about early successes, as well as the gratification that comes from making change.

“You lower someone’s blood pressure, that’s a yawner,” said Dr. Paul Updike, medical director of chemical dependency at Sisters of Charity Hospital, who says success in the fight is when patients and the community recognize addiction is a lifelong disease.

“Nobody wants to have the disease of addiction,” he said.

Dr. Joshua Lynch, an ED physician with Kaleida and UBMD Emergency Medicine, said nearly all local hospitals participate by providing medication-assisted treatment at the ER.

Mark Gunther, ECMC vice president of behavioral health, said working with community groups helps, too. 

“So often, in our daily work we get so task-driven that we have our blinders on and don’t think about what this is like from the patient perspective,” he said.

Law enforcement also changed how it views addiction, targeting dealers instead of users.

“We’re very aggressive in how we prosecute these individuals but we have to be judicious,” said James Kennedy Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York. “So we focus on those who do it for profit, those who may not have addiction issues and are simply doing it to get money.”