The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare so many issues in public health. One that we cannot ignore is the opioid crisis which we are still in the middle of – we’ve seen a stark increase in opioid-related overdoses since lockdown began in March of 2020. Recently, it was announced that New York State and Erie County will be receiving a substantial amount of settlement money from pharmaceutical companies who certainly share a large portion of the burden for this epidemic.
As Election Day 2021 nears, one thing is clear: Erie County will have a new Sheriff on January 1st, 2022. As a member of the body who has formal oversight of this important Office, my colleagues in the Legislature and I have been working towards new programs and goals for the Sheriff’s Office, which has undergone some transformations due to decreased capacity and changing needs. In our most recent Public Safety meeting, the Legislature discussed the implementation of a well thought out Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) program for detainees who come into the County jail system addicted to illegal substances like opioids. This has been a program we have fought to implement with Legislature allocated funding since 2019, and I’m proud to announce that we have a commitment from all stakeholders to implement the program at our Alden Correctional Facility and the Erie County Holding Center.
MAT is considered a “best practice treatment” by health professionals, along with mental health support, for anyone who is suffering from addiction. One million dollars has been earmarked for this effort by our Body to ensure that funding is adequate for the needs identified. The collaboration between the Erie County Department of Mental Health, the Legislature, and the Office of the Sheriff has been remarkable in this endeavor. Our citizen group, the Erie County Corrections Specialist Advisory Board, has equally been instrumental in their activism on the topic of jail oversight and made several key recommendations. The members include an appointee of the Sheriff’s office, our former Commissioner of Mental Health in Erie County, and other representatives from non-profit organizations who specialize in prisoner’s rights and rehabilitation.
At our full Legislative Session on October 21st, a resolution including funding for the newly proposed Erie County MAT Program will be introduced and voted on. I am confident this resolution will see overwhelming and hopefully unanimous support. We have come a long way in overhauling the practices of our County jail system since Democrats took over the Majority in the Legislature in January of 2018. This is another positive step in reducing recidivism, saving county tax dollars in lawsuits, and preserving the dignity of human life everyone deserves especially during their lowest points.
As I noted previously, Election Day is November 2nd. The Early Voting period begins on October 23rd and runs through October 31st. During this time, you are able to vote at any early voting site in Erie County. I encourage everyone to perform their civic duty and cast their ballot this year in the numerous. Town board seats, Town Supervisors, and two County Offices along with the Mayor of Buffalo will all expire. Make your voice heard! For more election information, visit www.elections.erie.gov.