More than 2,300 people died of drug overdoses in New York City during the 12 months ending in March of 2021, coinciding with the Covid-19 pandemic. The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) delivered deeply troubling news this week as it released new provisional data showing all but three states in the U.S. experienced an alarming rise in drug fatalities. New York City overdose deaths increased by an estimated 38.6%, far above the national average of 30.8%. This crisis impacts us all.
Fatal Overdoses Surge Across the U.S.
Reported drug deaths nationwide reached a record high of 96,779. This is the single largest increase in drug overdose deaths ever reported in the U.S. This timeframe, beginning in March of 2020, includes the deadliest period of the Covid-19 pandemic in the U.S.
The vast majority of deaths are from opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl. Cocaine and psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, ecstasy and ADHD drugs, also claimed more lives.
“It is important to remember that behind these devastating numbers are families, friends, and community members who are grieving the loss of loved ones,” Regina LaBelle, Acting Director of National Drug Control Policy, said in a statement.
Every state except for New Hampshire, South Dakota and New Jersey reported increases in overdose deaths. The largest increase in drug fatalities was recorded in Vermont.
The CDC noted that the data is provisional, as investigations into some overdose deaths are ongoing. The agency predicts the final total for this time period will be closer to 99,100 deaths.
Lethal Fentanyl Floods NYC
Tragically, someone in New York City dies of a drug overdose every four hours. Most overdose deaths involve illicit fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid that is found mixed with all different substances. Fentanyl is up to 50 times stronger than heroin.
People who believe they are buying heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and even prescription Adderall and oxycodone on the street, are at serious risk of overdosing due to fentanyl. Counterfeit pills containing fentanyl are made to look like prescription drugs available through pharmacies. The most common counterfeits containing fentanyl in New York City include 30 mg oxycodone pills, which are blue in color.
Across the city, the opioid epidemic disproportionally impacts people of color and high poverty neighborhoods, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Latino/a New Yorkers are most affected, while overdose death rates among Black and White populations are slightly lower.
Covid-19 and the Opioid Crisis
Covid-19 both overshadowed and exacerbated the opioid crisis. The sense of isolation felt by many during the pandemic was especially challenging for those struggling with substance use issues. New stress paired with limited access to drug treatment contributed to a surge in overdose deaths.
Experts say that isolation and trauma, loss of employment and fewer supportive services led people to use more and/or relapse. A lethal drug supply, saturated with fentanyl, led them to die.
Knowledge is power. Protect yourself and people you love.