LOCKPORT — Mike Sargent knows full well how the opioid crisis has impacted families across the country and in Western New York.
The photographer from Medina lost a son, Wade — whom he described as a "kind-hearted kid" — to the epidemic in 2017.
The elder Sargent was one of dozens of people who attended the third annual Lockport Overdose Rally last week in Veterans Park and while he acknowledged some positive changes in the way local governments and communities are addressing the issue, he noted that addiction remains a serious problem worthy of full attention.
“Make no mistake about it, if you’re not involved and doing something positive to end this, it will affect you," Sargent said while addressing the crowd during the rally. "The numbers are down, it’s great, but it’s still out there.”
The local overdose rally coincided with International Overdose Awareness Day, a global event held each Aug. 31 to raise awareness about overdoses and attempt to erase the stigma of drug-related death.
Doug Bisher, a founding member for this event, and certified recovery peer advocate for WNY Independent Living, took time to discuss the days meaning, its growth and impact,
“This is a growing event, and more people are not only being touched by addiction, but being positively affected from events like this and recovery," he said.
Niagara County District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek also attended the rally where she spoke about identifying the impact of addiction and overdose as being one without barriers.
“The opioid epidemic: It’s insidious, it’s indiscriminate, from urban high rises to suburbs and farm country," she said. "The crisis has no geographic, demographic or socioeconomic boundaries. It impacts all races, ethnicities, and nationalities, with ages ranging from teenagers to grandparents.”
Wojtaszek expressed optimism about ongoing efforts to combat the epidemic, noting recent shifts legislative priorities as signs that officials are taking steps to address the problem. She also praised another $7 million in state funding given annually to every county in New York to battle the onslaught of addiction.
“In late 2017, comprehensive legislation enabled investing for more than two million dollars (in Niagara County) to support treatment, recovery programs, residential services, 24/7 urgent access centers, community coalitions, family support navigators, and overdose reducing naloxone kits and training," she said.
Larry Elders, co-chair of the Niagara County Opioid Taskforce, kept his speech to the crowd short but meaningful, saying: “I’ve been in law enforcement 40 years, and have never seen such a collaborative effort in a community."
Elders, citing a data-gathering department for the Drug Enforcement Agency, remarked positively on Niagara’s downward trend in both fatal and non-fatal overdoses. Fatal overdoses being cut in half, and non-fatal by a third, he noted.
“You guys are coming together to save lives, and that’s what we’re doing here, saving lives.” Elders said.