Five people have died from opioid or heroin overdoses in 2019, according to Cattaraugus County Health Department officials.

That is down from 11 opioid/heroin overdose deaths in the county in 2015, when heroin addiction and overdoses spiked in the county and New York state, Cattaraugus County Public Health Director Dr. Kevin Watkins said.

The five “official” deaths were secondary to multiple drug intoxication, meaning an opioid was identified as part of the cause of death, Watkins said. Three of the deaths were recorded in Olean and one each in Salamanca and Portville.

There are an additional seven deaths being investigated as possible opioid overdose deaths.

The 2018 New York State Opioid Annual Data Report from the state Department of Health shows seven Cattaraugus County opioid overdose deaths or 10.5 per 100,000 population; two in Allegany County, or 5.9 per 100,000; and 24 in Chautauqua County, or 20.4 per 100,000.

The number of New York state opioid/heroin overdose deaths dropped 15.9 percent from 2,170 deaths in 2017 to 1,824 deaths in 2018.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state’s first reduction in opioid overdose deaths in over 10 years “is an important milestone and demonstrates our work to combat this deadly scourge is working.”

In 2018, Cattaraugus County unofficially recorded eight opioid/ heroin deaths, while the state Department of Health has officially recorded only four such overdose deaths, Watkins said. There were nine heroin/opioid deaths in 2017.

The state overdose data show deaths rose from one each in 2013 and 2014 to 11 in 2015, seven in 2016, nine in 2017, eight in 2018 and five so far in 2019.

Of the nine opioid overdose deaths in Cattaraugus County in 2017, five were heroin overdoses and six involved opioid pain relievers, including fentanyl, according to official state figures.

In 2018, (when the state recognizes only four heroin/opioid overdoses), there were four overdoses from all opioid pain relievers including and involving heroin.

The rate per 100,000 population of all opioid overdoses dropped from 11.6 in Cattaraugus County and 19.45 in New York state in 2017 to 5.1 in the county and 15.2 in the state in 2018.

There was a drop in opioid outpatient emergency room visits from 46 in 2017 — 31 of which were for heroin overdoses — to 39 in 2018, 21 of which were for heroin.

Hospitalizations for opioid overdoses increased from nine in Cattaraugus County in 2017 — six of which were for prescription drugs including fentanyl, to 10 in 2018, nine of which were for prescription drugs.

State Health Department data also show the number of addicts seeking treatment for chemical dependence on the decline from 2017 to 2018.

In 2017, there were 447 people admitted to treatment in the county, including 217 for heroin addiction. That decreased to 427 in treatment in 2018, including 165 for heroin addiction.

The use of Narcan, an opioid overdose antidote, is also down from 2017 to 2018. Emergency medical services used Narcan 64 times in 2017 and 45 times in 2018. Police usage was down too, from eight in 2017 to three in 2018. Cooperative usage was down from six in 2017 to one in 2018.

Watkins said after the heroin epidemic was brought to the attention of the Board of Health in late 2015 after 11 overdose deaths had been recorded, the County Legislature approved creating the Cattaraugus County Heroin/Opioid Task Force in early 2016.

“We’ve been working to try to reduce the number of overdose deaths by putting out a large number of antidote Narcan doses with training and free distribution by Southern Tier Health Care,” Watkins said. “Anyone who wants Narcan and training can have it.” The state has provided Narcan at cost.

Statewide, heroin overdose deaths are on the decline and are stabilizing in Cattaraugus County. “There’s still a large number of overdoses in the community,” Watkins said. “We hope to see it at zero.”

If people are still going to use opioids, it can be done more safely with some supervision and a can of Narcan, Watkins indicated.

“We’re hoping they will work with a substance abuse group like CAReS to get themselves into a medication assisted therapy program with a drug like suboxone to relieve opioid cravings and help them get rid of opioids,” Watkins said.

Many people addicted to prescription opioids and heroin were given prescriptions for the powerful painkillers that left them addicted. When a crackdown in prescribing the opioids went into effect, the street price increased and some people turned to heroin with its own addiction problems.

“We are going to continue to work with substance abuse centers,” Watkins said. The recent opening by CAReS of a women’s residential treatment center in Westons Mills is also welcome news, he said.

“We need to continue to be vigilant,” Watkins said. “While we are seeing a decrease in the number of overdose deaths, there seems to be an increase in the use of methamphetamine.

Watkins said that there are not a lot of deaths associated with meth, so “it’s harder to see the effect on the community.”

One reason for the decline in opioid/heroin use is that with training, medical providers are not writing as many opioid prescriptions.

“We’re also making locked drop boxes for opioids more available throughout the county,” Watkins said. That way, people don’t leave unused opioids in their medicine cabinets where they can be stolen.

“I think it has really helped by getting rid of the extra volume of opioids,” Watkins said of the drug drop boxes.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)