Fentanyl has hit New York City streets, and it’s leaving behind a death toll to prove it — overdose deaths jumped by almost 50 percent last year, and city officials said opioids are to blame.
2016 was the deadliest year on record for fatal drug overdoses, and illicit opioids like fentanyl — a drug 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin — played a large part.
A total of 1,374 people died from drug overdoses last year — a whopping 46 percent jump over 2015, and the city Department of Health is pointing to opioids in a report released this week.
“The final overdose data for 2016 confirm what we have feared — drug overdose deaths have reached a record high and are increasing citywide as the opioid epidemic continues to affect every community,” DOH commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett told DNA Info.
Opioids of some kind were involved in 82 percent of overdose deaths, data showed. Nearly three-quarters — 72 percent — of all overdose deaths involved heroin or fentanyl.
Some of New York City’s poorest boroughs were hardest hit – the Bronx and Staten Island – though increases in accidental overdose deaths were seen across the board in every gender, race, age group and neighborhood.
White men between the ages of 45 to 54 were most likely to die of an overdose.
New York’s numbers are a reflection of a harrowing national trend: More than 50,000 people died of drug overdoses across the country in 2015, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control has data, and coroners across the continent have credited the growing number of overdose deaths to fentanyl infiltrating the drug supply.
It takes just a few milligrams of fentanyl to dangerously increase the risk of overdose for a user. Opioids slow down breathing and can eventually stop it, causing death if a user takes too much.
Fentanyl was involved in 44 percent of all overdose deaths in New York City in 2016, and the data doesn’t show any signs of the epidemic slowing down. Since 2015, the percent of overdose deaths involving fentanyl has increased nearly every quarter. The CDC has identified the Northeast as ground zero in the fentanyl epidemic.
To make things scarier, fentanyl has started creeping into other drug supplies as well.
Fentanyl has been increasingly present in cocaine and is driving overdose deaths among cocaine users, according to DOH data. Fentanyl was present in 37 percent of all cocaine overdoses.
"All New Yorkers who use drugs, even if only occasionally, should know their drugs may be mixed with fentanyl,” Bassett said to Business Insider.
But killing customers sounds like a basic economic no-no for drug dealers, so why are they doing it?
Simply put, money, said Dr. Samuel Gutman, a doctor with a company that provides medical services at large events like music festivals.
Dealers are cutting fentanyl into other drugs because "it's cheap and available, and it's easy to synthesize,” Gutman told Vice Canada.
To fight the upward trend in drug overdose deaths, the city is encouraging residents to carry naloxone, a life-saving drug that can almost instantly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.