The Bronx Plagued By Opioid Addiction, Overdose Deaths

By McCarton Ackerman 12/29/16

Last year, the Bronx had the highest rates of fentanyl-related deaths in New York City.

Apartment buildings in the Bronx's Hunt's Point neighborhood.

Plenty of attention has been given to the opioid overdose epidemic in the New York City borough of Staten Island, but new data shows that it's actually the Bronx that's getting the worst of it.

The Epoch Times reported that out of the 937 unintentional drug overdose deaths recorded last year in NYC, 80% of those involved an opioid. And 30% of those were heroin and fentanyl deaths in the Bronx, despite the fact that just 17% of NYC residents live in the borough. The Bronx also had the highest rate of fentanyl-related deaths in the city last year, double the rate of any other borough.

In addition, heroin-related deaths in the Bronx rose by 47% between 2014 and 2015. The majority of Bronx overdose deaths came from white residents, even though they comprise just 10% of the borough’s population.

Samantha Paz, assistant vice president of Boom!Health, a Bronx-based nonprofit that works with drug users, said their staff members use naloxone to reverse about three overdoses per month. Last year they provided 9,000 drug users with a wide range of services including shelter, counseling and treatment referrals. Paz said that Bronx residents most likely aren’t using drugs more frequently than in other parts of the city, but are using them in more hazardous circumstances.

Efforts are now being made to address the problem throughout the borough. Hillary Kunins, assistant commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the city is planning to launch an opioid abuse awareness campaign in the Bronx. The city will also revamp its 1-800-LIFENET helpline to connect callers with counseling and treatment services, and city officials have already spoken with 2,000 doctors throughout the Bronx and Staten Island about being "judicious" when prescribing opioids.

“The best way to stay safe is not to start using,” said Kunins during an Oct. 4 roundtable on opioid addiction. “Even when people have pain, sometimes that medication is not really the safest choice.”

Drug trafficking has also been an ongoing issue in the Bronx. Past cases include local police shutting down a heroin mill in the borough in 2011 and seizing $400,000 worth of the drug, which was contained in 39,000 glassine envelopes stamped with the Blackberry smartphone logo. In April 2012, police charged six residents with operating a national prescription drug ring out of a local daycare center.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.