The opioid crisis during the COVID pandemic has been getting worse both in the city and in the nation. Given our progress in reducing overdose deaths in recent years, this result is very disappointing. Researchers suggest that stressors associated with COVID-19, including trauma from economic instability, social isolation and grief, as well as limited access to treatment, have contributed to a surge in relapses. Here in New York City, our beleaguered public health officials have scrambled to launch new initiatives to expand access to medications, such as methadone and buprenorphine, and the opioid overdose antidote naloxone.
At the same time, we are seeing a flood of deadly fentanyl coming into the city which is contributing to the opioid crisis. A synthetic opioid, fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin. It is saturating the drug supply. Most heroin and counterfeit prescription pills sold on the street contain fentanyl. Cocaine and methamphetamine sometimes do as well. Unsuspecting drug users are at grave risk of overdose. Fentanyl is linked to well over 60% of drug-related deaths in New York City. During the first two months of this year, our investigations have confiscated more fentanyl than during all of last year.
Our approach to addressing the opioid crisis is multi-pronged: reducing the supply of dangerous narcotics through our focus on high-level traffickers; investigating organizations linked to overdose deaths; and prosecuting those responsible for prescription drug diversion, including medical practitioners. Both the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) New York Division observed a strong correlation between sharp escalations in violent crime and drug trafficking over the past year. We are strong supporters of treatment and harm reduction techniques, such as medication-assisted therapies (MATs), needle exchanges, and easy access to naloxone, the overdose reversal drug. Our approach is consistent with the city’s goals to reduce incarceration.