New York Launches Fentanyl Education Campaign

By Lindsey Weedston 05/31/19

The campaign will target neighborhoods that have been hit hardest by the opioid epidemic and will promote the use of naloxone.

New York

The New York Health Department launched a public information campaign on Tuesday designed to prevent overdose deaths by educating opioid users on safe use and especially on the dangers of fentanyl.

The campaign will target neighborhoods that have been hit hardest by the opioid epidemic and will promote the carrying and use of naloxone, a medication that blocks opioid receptors in the brain and can stop a potentially fatal overdose.

According to New York Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot, fentanyl—the synthetic opioid that’s up to 50 times more potent than heroin—is “driving the overdose epidemic in New York City.”

“People who use drugs should know there are ways to reduce their risk of overdose,” said Barbot in a statement. “If you use drugs, don’t use them by yourself; if you overdose, someone else will need to call 911. This information can save lives.”

Campaign posters and ads on subways, bus shelters, billboards, the Staten Island Ferry Terminal and more will warn drug users that fentanyl can be found in illicit batches of heroin, cocaine, crack and other common street drugs. It is tasteless and odorless, making detection impossible without special kits, and can cause rapid and deadly overdose. Other advice includes never using alone, avoiding mixing drugs, and carrying naloxone whenever possible.

The New York Health Department predicts that HealingNYC will save up to 400 lives before 2022. City Council Health Committee Chair Mark Levine stressed that saving as many lives as possible needs to be the goal, regardless of whether the drugs involved are legal.

“Every New Yorker should know that if you use drugs, there are things you can do to mitigate the chances of a deadly overdose,” said Levine. “We need to be open and honest about drug use in New York City and make the use of drugs, even if illegal, as safe as possible. This program will save lives.”

A related public awareness campaign to provide free fentanyl testing kits to the public has seen a fair amount of success. According to Junior Bazile, Director of Programs for New York Harm Reduction Educators, the organization has seen “considerable increase in the uptake of those testing kits.”

Nationally, synthetic opioids (mostly fentanyl) were involved in 19,413 of the 42,249 opioid overdose deaths in 2016, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

In New York City alone, there were 1,487 overdose deaths in 2017, with 57% of them involving fentanyl. Information campaigns and efforts to distribute and train people in the use of naloxone seem to be helping, but nothing will be certain until more recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are published.

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at Twitter: