County ef­forts to in­form drug users about safer prac­tices have kept more of them alive

The Buffalo News - - FRONT PAGE - By San­dra Tan

Nearly 20 of Joseph Dudek’s friends are among the more than 1,000 Erie County res­i­dents who have died of opi­oid-re­lated drug over­doses since 2015. But Dudek is still alive, de­spite his decades-long and con­tin­u­ing drug use.

He’s an ex­am­ple of how ef­forts to curb drug fa­tal­i­ties are pay­ing off in Erie County, es­pe­cially on the front lines. Treat­ment providers like Ever­green Health are dra­mat­i­cally chang­ing how they work with drug users like Dudek, a 60-year-old North Buf­falo res­i­dent. And, bet­ter-in­formed drug users are chang­ing how they go about feed­ing their ad­dic­tion un­til they’re ready to over­come it.

Dudek doesn’t shoot up alone any­more. He has some­one watch him use drugs, even if it means he has to share his stash. He ex­changes his nee­dles. He keeps a Nar­can res­cue kit handy and in­serts a thin, white test strip in ev­ery new batch of heroin to de­tect the pres­ence of po­ten­tially lethal fen­tanyl.

“Some peo­ple push it all in and get it over with,” Dudek said of other drug users. “Me, no. I’ve got to be care­ful.”

Erie County’s fa­tal over­dose rate reached nearly one a day in 2016, but now fa­tal­i­ties have fallen to a four-year low. As of last week, sus­pected and con­firmed deaths for 2018 num­bered 194 –

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