Opioid Overdose Death Rates Shift In New York

By Paul Gaita 09/06/17

A new report shows that there has been a slight but significant change in overdose death rates in the state.

nurse and doctor standing beside a gurney in a hospital.

A new report from the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) shows that deaths from opioid overdose fell in most New York counties between 2015 and 2016. Expanded use of the overdose prevention drug naloxone was credited in part with the downward shift in numbers, reflecting growing recognition of the medication's effectiveness in helping to lower opioid overdose deaths. However, the report did not reflect opioid-related death statistics from New York City, where overdose deaths continued to rise during the same time period.

According to the report, New York state experienced 1,238 opioid deaths between 2015 and 2016—a small but still significant decrease from previous statistics, which counted 1,520 deaths in 2014.

The report authors noted several factors that could influence their statistics, including lag times in the electronic reporting of death certificates and patient information to their offices due to a variety of factors, including toxicology reports; they also noted that their statistics only include data reported by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, and do not include individuals treated on Veterans Affairs facilities or who travel out of state for treatment, among other factors.

NYSDOH is crediting the efforts of county health departments and the expanded use of naloxone with the decrease in overdose deaths. Access to the overdose reversal drug was expanded in 2014 to allow use by law enforcement officials, and while exact numbers regarding the number of instances in which naloxone has revived individuals experiencing opioid-related overdose are unknown, several counties included in the report saw overdose deaths drop as a result of expanded naloxone use.

In Westchester County, law enforcement used naloxone on 110 occasions—up from 44 in 2014—while emergency medical services (EMS) use rose from 378 to 406. Overdose deaths in the area dropped from 83 to 59 during the same time period.

"The increased use of naloxone in New York State reflects both the ongoing opioid epidemic as well as increased access to this life-saving medication," said state health department spokesperson Jill Montag to The Huffington Post. "County health departments—as well as treatment programs, community-based organizations and public safety agencies—have taken critical roles in working with the state to expand this capacity."

Montag also told HuffPost that the state will continue to expand access to naloxone by offering up to $40 in copay assistance to individuals with health insurance. The drug is still free to those without insurance through an overdose prevention program registered with NYSDOH.

Statistics for heroin overdose within New York City's boroughs remains grim; the city's Health Department reported that unintentional overdose deaths increased from 937 in 2015 to 1,374 in 2016, of which 80% involved opioids. Use of naloxone by city first responders also rose during this time frame—from 5,088 times in 2015 to 7,667 times in 2016.

A spokesperson from the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene likened national overdose rates to what's happening in the Bronx, where opioid-related overdose deaths have been on the rise since 2010. "If the South Bronx were a state, it would have the second highest overdose rate after West Virginia," the official told HuffPost.

Figures from West Virginia's Health Statistics Center found that at least 818 individuals died from drug overdoses in that state in 2016 alone.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.