Three dozen people have died from drug overdoses since March 1 in Erie County, leading authorities to suspect the Covid-19 pandemic may be exacerbating the precarious situations of those with substance abuse problems.
Drug overdoses in Niagara County increased 35% so far this year compared with the same period last year, according the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office.
“I think we need to consider the role that social isolation coupled with nonstop reporting on the pandemic may have on the feelings of desperation and hopelessness among those struggling with substance abuse,” U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr. said in a press release.
The Erie County deaths represent one-third of the 110 documented overdoses during the month.
Acting Niagara County Sheriff Michael J. Filicetti said contributing factors to overdoses “could include the adjustment of methadone clinic hours, decreased availability of methadone or other synthetic treatments for opioid abuse, a heightened sense of anxiety and job loss.”
Laura Kelemen, director of the Niagara County Department of Mental Health, said, “fear and anxiety, as well as loneliness and isolation are frequent triggers for alcohol or other drug use.”
Filicetti said family members and others close to those battling substance abuse should be alert to any signs of an individual slipping back into a pattern of abuse.
“We need to keep an eye on our loved ones, friends and neighbors during this pandemic,” Filicetti said.
Kennedy on Friday announced the arrest of James Terrell, 35, of Buffalo, on charges of possession with intent to distribute 1 kilogram or more of heroin. The charge carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in prison to a maximum of life and a $10 million fine.
When the Erie County Sheriff’s Office stopped Terrell’s car Aug. 20, a K-9 detected the odor of narcotics. A search warrant was executed and resulted in the seizure of $80,110 in cash and two cellphones, according to Assistant U. S. Attorney Michael J. Adler.
Undercover investigators later purchased fentanyl from Terrell, according to authorities. When executing another search warrant of Terrell’s vehicle Thursday, investigators recovered a brick-like object from the trunk, taped and hidden within sweatpants. Under the taping was a green-taped brick with the words “Arco Tijuana” written on it in marker. Field testing determined the brick contained suspected heroin.
“It’s unconscionable that drug traffickers would continue to distribute their deadly poison in our communities in the midst of a public health crisis,” said Kevin Kelly, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations.