New York City experienced a dramatic increase of nearly 40 percent in drug overdose deaths in 2016, fueled overwhelmingly by heroin and fentanyl cases, creating what one city official likened to a “public health crisis.”
Overdose deaths in the city and nationwide were among the trends highlighted at a conference Thursday that delved into the problem caused by heroin that is sometimes as pure as 90 percent and laced with fentanyl. Police officials from around the country attended the Police Executive Research Forum at NYPD headquarters.
From a low point in 2010, when the city had 541 overdose deaths, officials expect the 2016 number to break 1,300, a 38 percent jump over 2015, said NYPD chief Dermot Shea. A firm number of deaths will be available at a later date, officials said.
“There is fentanyl right there,” said Shea, head of the department’s strategic planning office, about the death statistics. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than morphine, experts said.
“The bad news is that . . . we are estimating day-to-day, we are seeing jumps of 50 percent in the first two months of 2017,” Shea said. “So the problem is not getting better.”
Shea was among scores of police officials who met to talk about using a coordinated approach to respond to what they called a U.S. “opioid epidemic.” Officials from Philadelphia, a city with a population of about 1.6 million, said they had seen 900 deaths last year, a number that per capita is higher than New York’s.
Police have successfully used Narcan, also known as Naloxone, to save overdose victims. Addicts can buy the prescription antidote at pharmacies and friends can carry it to help friends, NYPD official Susan Herman told reporters.
“It says we have a public health crisis and it’s a good thing that people are aware of an addiction in your family or among your friends . . . and someone is saying ‘I am going to be carrying Naloxone,’ ” Herman said.