The New York Heroin Problem

heroinThe rate of fatalities from unintentional heroin overdoses in New York City last year was the highest the city has seen in the past ten years, according to a recent report from the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene. Highlighting what appears to be a surge in heroin usage in New York City and across the country, the report indicates that the number of overdoses involving heroin in New York City has increased exponentially since 2010, with the drug accounting for more than half of the city’s overdoses in 2013.

According to the report, drug overdose deaths in New York City increased by just over 7% in 2013, after rising by 16% in both 2011 and 2012, and heroin-related overdoses increased by less than 10% in 2013, compared to a 36% increase in 2011 and a 35% increase in 2012. These statistics indicate that heroin overdose deaths are on the rise in New York City, and while 2013 did see a significant slowing of the pace, compared to the previous two years, it remains unclear whether the decrease in the rate of heroin-related deaths is simply a fluke or actually signals a new trend.

Heroin Overdose Deaths Have Increased

Some may be heartened by what appears to be a flattening of the curve, but Matt Curtis, policy director at the non-profit advocacy group VOCAL NY, warns against drawing conclusions from just one year’s worth of data. It might be we are reaching some saturation point, but I’d be cautious about drawing conclusions from one year to another year, Curtis stated. The hard truth is that the rate of heroin overdose deaths has increased every year since 2010, and the victims of overdose are getting younger and younger, with the biggest increase in heroin overdoses affecting those between the ages of 15 and 34.

According to the health department data, the highest rate of opioid-related fatalities in 2013 were reported among people aged 35 to 54 and in New York City’s wealthiest neighborhoods. However, heroin in particular is still more prevalent in areas where the poverty level is the highest, especially in Queens, where the rate of heroin overdoses more than doubled last year. Heroin isn’t the only drug plaguing New York City though, and reports show fatalities from cocaine, prescription opioids and benzodiazepines like Valium have increased in every New York City borough except Staten Island in recent years.

Stopping Heroin Fatalities in New York

While the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene report paints a grim picture of the heroin epidemic in New York City, law enforcement officials are taking significant steps to reduce the rate of opioid-related deaths in the city. Nearly 20,000 New York City police officers are being equipped with naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, and statistics show that more than 400 overdose deaths have been prevented because of naloxone in the past three years alone.

In combination with increased efforts to curb the number of prescriptions for opioid drugs, health department officials hope to reverse New York’s growing trend of heroin-related fatalities.

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