Over the last week, SWAT teams have been busting heroin dealers and their associates as authorities try to stop the flow of heroin that in recent weeks is believed to have caused at least seven deaths among drug addicts in Buffalo and its suburbs.
Two recent incidents illustrate the continuing impact of the heroin epidemic.
A 26-year-old Lancaster mother overdosed on suspected opiates with her 1-year-old daughter and three other adults in the residence.
When paramedics arrived Tuesday at the Hess Place home, they performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation and administered an antidote to revive the woman, who was taken to Erie County Medical Center and is expected to live.
A man living on Pulaski Street in Buffalo may not be so fortunate. He was listed in critical condition Tuesday afternoon from a suspected heroin overdose.
Federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials from state and local agencies today are expected to announce they have made a major dent in the sale of heroin and other drug additives contributing to the spate of fatal overdoses.
The busts come three days after an apparent heroin overdose claimed the life of Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in New York City, which provided the country with a shocking wake-up call to the dangers of opiates.
Authorities say it is no coincidence heroin, often mixed with the synthetic, high-powered painkiller fentanyl, is becoming more common at the same time a national effort to clamp down on doctor-approved prescription painkillers has made those medications more difficult to obtain.
“We pay all this attention to Philip Seymour Hoffman and all the famous people that died before him and will die after him, but what about our community and our kids. It shouldn’t take someone in Hollywood to focus on a problem in our backyard,” said Jodie Altman, director of the Renaissance Campus in West Seneca.
Altman routinely comes in contact with children as young as 12 who enter the three in-patient treatment facilities at the campus, and she has no problem using words like epidemic to describe the growing heroin addiction that she and others say was spawned by prescription pain pills like hydrocodone and oxycodone.
U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. agrees with Altman that it shouldn’t take a famous person to put a spotlight on a public health problem.
“Seven months ago our office issued a warning along with the Buffalo police and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration that there was an emerging public health crisis involving heroin and fentanyl,” Hochul said. “It was only a blip and regrettably our warning went unheeded.” Hochul said the heroin epidemic is reminiscent of the crack cocaine epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with one with important distinction. “Crack was an urban problem, but with this, you’ll see the suburbs and rural communities affected as well,” he said. There is also another element. Michelle Y. Spahn, resident agent in charge of the DEA’s Buffalo Office, said the federal effort has included the arrests of several doctors and other medical professionals who have abused their access to prescription painkillers. “They had either illegally prescribed the drugs, over-prescribed the drugs or have diverted these pharmaceuticals onto the streets of our communities,” Spahn said. “Unfortunately we are up against a vicious animal. It is the power of addiction, and that is a vicious animal.”
Lancaster Police Capt. William J. Karn Jr. said the three adults in the house where the mother overdosed were charged with endangering the welfare a child. Their names were not released, but they are a 32-year-old Buffalo man, a 29-year-old Franklinville man and a 28-year-old Lancaster woman.