BUFFALO, N.Y. — The number of people in Erie County who died from overdosing on opioid drugs dropped last year for the first time since 2013.

And so far in 2018, it appears that trend has continued.

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein updated county legislators on efforts to fight opioid addiction on Thursday.

"We're still tracking at lower numbers than we saw last year, so we're moving in the right direction," Burstein said.

Here's a look at the numbers. In 2016, 301 people died from opioid overdoses.  Last year, that number fell by 11 percent to 268. 

In 2018, Burstein says there have been about 182 deaths confirmed or suspected to be caused by opioid abuse. If that pace holds for the rest of the year, fewer will die because of those drugs than in 2017.

Burstein credits first responders who often save people with doses naloxone, an emphasis on treatment programs for those who have problems, the help and training of law enforcement officers and the effort to keep them the drugs away in the first place. 

"In 2015 and before that, hydrocodone was the number one filled drug by Medicaid recipients in Erie County. And since then it's dropped to Number 10."

While the data suggests positive signs, Burstein cautions there is still much more to be done.

"Remember, that's just the tip of the iceberg.  For every death we don't even know how many people there are who are struggling with opioid addiction," she said.

That's why Erie County Legislator John Bruso (D - District 8) asked health officials about the possibility of using space at the renovated Buffalo Psychiatric Center for inpatient opioid treatment.

"I believe that psychiatric and addiction goes together, goes hand-in-hand," Bruso said. 

However, the New York State Office of Mental Health plans to use the room for children dealing with both developmental disabilities and behavioral problems. Burstein says evidence shows people fighting addiction have better results becoming and staying clean with medication and assistance on an outpatient basis rather than staying in a treatment facility.  

"Providing counselling so they can address the triggers in their home environment and learn how to survive and be healthy and happy and productive where they live," Burstein said.