New York’s worst public health crisis is getting worse. No, not COVID, but fatal overdoses.
OD deaths increased 78% from pre-pandemic levels, killing 1,233 in the first half of 2021, a 28% spike from the same period in 2020.
The city’s Department of Health blames fentanyl because the vast majority of those deaths were linked to the powerful synthetic opioid, which is often used to cut other narcotics. Over a ton of fentanyl was seized statewide in 2021 (95% of which was in New York); in 2020, the NYPD found that approximately 80% of all heroin tested contained the drug.
Across the Empire State, the horrific drug toll has risen to more than 14,500 since 2015.
So it’s good news that the city is pouring funds from a massive state settlement with the pharmaceutical industry into opioid addiction and treatment centers, but it’s not enough.
Especially as long as our so-called safe injection sites remain open. Yes, users can test their medications for fentanyl and get anti-overdose medication if needed. But if they can save lives at the margins, they will likely cost lives overall by helping to solidify the lawless culture around drug use in New York, encouraging addiction and reducing quality of life.
Fentanyl, to be clear, is a national problem, causing more and more deaths in the United States for nearly a decade. In 2020, 29,000 Americans between the ages of 15 and 34 died from drug overdoses. (That’s more than nine times as many COVID deaths in that age group over that time, by the way.) Overall, fentanyl-related deaths exceed opioid-related deaths by 550% on arrangement.
Look at teenagers, and the picture gets even darker: OD mortality increased by 94% among drug users aged 14-18 from 2019 to 2020, and appears to have increased another 20% in 2021. is without a drastic increase in the total number of teenage users, suggesting that these are the drugs that have become the deadliest.
This poison enters the country through our porous southern border via the trafficking efforts of Mexican cartels using Chinese raw materials to synthesize the drug. Which casts the news that the Biden administration has taken another insane milestone — the fastest pace of border meetings in at least the past two decades, with more than a million since October — in a terrifying new light, since officers arresting illegal migrants aren’t t arresting illicit drugs.
So does the President’s decision to end Title 42 deportations and his planned cuts to the ranks of Border Patrol agents.
These are, again, the exact Wrong moves. After, not least, border enforcement is necessary. This means leaving Title 42 in place and not reducing the ranks of CBP. It also means pressure on Mexico to get its house in order (reactivating its recently shut down elite federal drug unit would be a good start).
In the absence of strong policies, there is no real solution. Unfortunately, the Biden White House lacks the political will to do the right thing. Which means this epidemic – far more deadly to young people than COVID – is going to get worse here and across the country.