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This County Would Have Seen Its Opioid Overdose Rate Double (2017)

Erie County, N.Y. Executive Mark Poloncarz says his jurisdiction was on its way to 550 overdose deaths in 2016. Here’s what the county government did to keep that from happening.

In 2015, overdoses related to opioids left 256 residents of Erie County, New York dead. And, at the rate things were going in the early months of last year, local officials were preparing themselves to see that number more than double.

“At the rate we were going, we should have had about 550 deaths,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz told Route Fifty in an interview in Columbus, Ohio during the National Association of Counties annual conference last week.

But that dreaded doubling never materialized, and the county’s 2017 overdose rate has remained relatively flat compared to similar jurisdictions. Poloncarz attributes that success, in part, to the county’s comprehensive, all-hands-on-deck, multi-faceted approach.

That strategy started in early 2016, when Poloncarz declared a public health emergency and formed a task force with every possible type of stakeholder that could speak to the crisis. The county took recommendations from that task force, and from a national task force jointly run by NACo and the National League of Cities, of which Poloncarz was a member, very seriously.