Local and national statistics support Perry and Forrester’s assertions.
According to the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s office, the use of heroin, fentanyl and/or related substances caused 287 deaths across an 11-county region in 2017, with 22 of those fatalities occurring in Monroe County. That figure marks a dramatic rise from 2015, when the combined total was 85 for Monroe along with Allegany, Chemung, Genesee, Livingston, Ontario, Orleans, Steuben, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates counties.
Through July of this year, 675 people overdosed on opioids in Monroe County, and 103 died, according to law-enforcement data collected by the Monroe County Heroin Task Force, a partnership of government and law-enforcement officials begun in early 2018.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that drug overdoses killed 63,632 people in 2016, marking an all-time high and an increase of 21.5 percent from the previous year. Approximately two-thirds of those deaths involved a prescription or illicit opioid, with opioid-overdose deaths increasing five-fold between 1999 and 2016.
Opioids are drugs produced through either a partial or fully synthetic process. They include oxycodone (often known by the brand name OxyContin), hydrocodone and methadone. Adults of all ages run the risk of becoming addicted to opioids after taking them as prescribed medications for pain. Data from the Monroe County Medical Examiner shows that the median age for opioid overdose deaths last year was 38, with victims ranging in age from 20 to 82.
Common Ground Health, a Rochester-based research group, found that in 2016, pain-medication overdoses were highest among people ages 50 and up across its nine-county region — Chemung, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and Yates counties — whereas heroin overdoses were most prevalent among 15- to 29-year-olds.
Above and below: Figures are provided by the Monroe County Medical Examiner's Office and represent an 11-county area. Of the 287 opioid deaths in 2017, 220 were in Monroe County.
One opioid of special note is fentanyl — a medication for treating severe pain, often prescribed for advanced cancer patients and people recovering from surgery — which according to the CDC is 50 times more powerful than heroin. The CDC notes that when fentantyl is illicitly manufactured and mixed with heroin, this opioid can quickly kill an abuser who may or may not be aware of its presence.
Meanwhile, the popularity of heroin — an illegal substance that is processed from morphine and comes from the same family of drugs as prescription painkillers — has grown immensely because it is cheap compared to prescription drugs and readily available on the street, said Cathy Saresky, vice president of clinical innovation for Catholic Family Center and a presenter at a June 14 public forum on opioids at Penfield’s St. Joseph Church. Saresky added that three out of every four heroin addicts began with prescription medication.
Deb Leach, another presenter at the CFC-sponsored event, told of growing up in financial comfort in Webster, but with a mother who became addicted to opioids after they were prescribed to her following spinal surgery. Her mother went on to spend thousands of dollars per week to obtain opioids illegally before turning to heroin and disappearing into the streets of Rochester. After four years without contact, Leach received a collect call from her mother, who was being held at the Monroe County Jail, her arms covered in track marks from needle injections. Eventually, Leach did manage to get her mother into a successful treatment program.
“In March we celebrated 12 years (of sobriety),” said a choked-up Leach, who now works as a counselor for the Open Access Clinic in Rochester, which helps people with addiction.