Dan Goldberg | August 28, 2014
Heroin and other drug-related deaths continue to climb in New York City, according to data released Thursday by the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, though the pace declined in 2013, providing at least a glimmer of hope the trend is slowing.
After increasing by 16 percent in 2011 and another 16 percent in 2012, drug-related deaths increased by just over 7 percent in 2013, according to the data. Overdoses involving heroin increased by 36 percent in 2011 and 35 percent in 2012, but by less than 10 percent in 2013.
“We are very heartened to see a flattening of that curve,” assistant health commissioner Dr. Hillary Kunins said.
But be wary of reading too much into one year’s worth of data, said Matt Curtis, policy director at VOCAL NY, a non-profit advocacy group.
“It might be we are reaching some saturation point, but I’d be cautious about drawing conclusions from one year to another year,” he said.
Whether 2013 represents something different or a mere blip won’t be known for a couple more years but what is clear from the data is that opioids, especially heroin, continue to plague the city, particularly the wealthier, whiter, more suburban neighborhoods. That mimicks a trend seen in neighboring states such as New Jersey and Vermont, where the governor dedicated his entire State of the State to the opioid problem there.
In 2013, New York City reported its wealthiest neighborhoods had the highest rate of opioid-involved deaths when compared to all other neighborhoods.
Heroin is still more prevalent in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, particularly the South Bronx, but its growth in the suburbs far outpaced the trend in poorer parts of the city.
The rate among Queens residents, for example, more than doubled from 1.9 heroin overdose deaths per 100,000 residents in 2010 to 4.3 per 100,000 residents in 2013. Between 2010 and 2013, residents of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods saw the largest jump in heroin-related deaths, nearly 200 percent.
Whites died from heroin overdoses at about twice the rate of African Americans, while Hispanic New Yorkers saw the largest percentage increase in heroin-related deaths, the data show.
In all, 420 of the 782 fatal drug overdoses in 2013 were attributed to heroin, according to the data.
But it’s not just heroin.
Fatalities from cocaine, prescription opioids and benzodiazephines such as Valium and Xanax, have all increased. It’s happened among almost all age groups and every race, and in every borough except Staten Island.
That borough represents the one piece of good news amid an otherwise grim report.
Staten Island saw a 32 percent decrease in opioid overdose deaths, reversing a nearly decade-long trend.
Though the borough still has by far the highest rate of opioid overdose deaths, health department officials touted the decline and contributed it to concerted education efforts and an increase in naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effect of an opioid overdose.
The health department says more than 400 overdose death have been prevented because of naloxone since 2010. Naloxone works by stopping opioids from attaching to receptors in the body, preventing a drug overdose.
Kunins explained that last summer health department officials went door-to-door on Staten Island talking to physicians about best practices, hoping to curb the number of prescriptions for opioids. It is too soon to know if that was a direct cause of the decline in fatalities, but it is an effort the department plans to repeat in the Bronx.
The data was first reported by The New York Times