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Fatal overdose rate in South Bronx higher in '17 than 49 states, official says

The 2017 rate was propelled by deadly fentanyl added to heroin and other drugs, city health official says.

The Bronx had the highest rate of fatal

The Bronx had the highest rate of fatal drug overdoses nationwide, except for West Virginia, in 2017. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

The rate of fatal drug overdoses in the South Bronx for 2017 was higher than any state except for West Virginia, a top New York City health researcher told Newsday.

Based on the latest city drug fatality tallies for 2017, the South Bronx neighborhoods of Highbridge-Morrisania and Hunts Point-Mott Haven had rates of overdose deaths more than double the city average, said Dr. Denise Paone, director of research and surveillance for the Department of Health. The neighborhoods tallied fatal overdose rates of 44.0 and 46.2, respectively, per 100,000 population.

The city’s overall average fatal overdose rate was 21.3 in 2017, the data showed. West Virginia had a rate of 52 overdose deaths per 100,000 in 2017, city officials said.

“If the South Bronx was its own state,” Paone said, “it would have the second highest rate in the country after West Virginia.”

Paone said the numbers clearly indicate that fatal overdoses among drug users are endemic in the Bronx, propelled by deadly fentanyl added to heroin and other drugs.

“For the most part now, most people don’t know the drug they use is cut with fentanyl,” Paone said.

Statistics released earlier this week, showed that New York City tallied 1,487 confirmed drug overdose deaths in 2017, up 62 from 2016, or a two-percent spike. The increase over 2016 actually represents a slow down from the explosive 51- percent jump recorded between 2015 and 2016, city officials said.

Data for the first quarter of 2018 showed city drug overdose deaths occurring at a slightly higher rate than the same period last year.

The higher drug fatality rate in the Bronx, which as a borough was 31.9 in 2017, represented a shift from 2016 when Staten Island led the city with a fatal overdose rate of 32.5 deaths per 100,000. In Staten Island, the rate of drug-related fatalities fell to 27.3 per 100,000 people in 2017.

In parts of the South Bronx, deadly drug overdoses are just one of a number of long-term health and economic problems facing the borough, Paone said. Residents of the Bronx also suffer from higher rates of asthma, infant mortality and poverty than other parts of the city, Paone said.

City Councilwoman Diana Ayala (D-Bronx) said in a statement that the high drug overdose death rate in the South Bronx was a call for action.

“I am disheartened to learn neighborhoods such as Mott Haven and Highbridge — both of which are in my district — have the highest rates of overdose deaths,” Ayala said. “Our city must continue to approach the opioid epidemic holistically and so through a racial equity lens.”

City data showed that fentanyl, a synthetic opioid said to be 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, contributed to 57 percent of overdose deaths in 2017, compared to 44 percent in 2016. Heroin was the next most common cause of fatal overdoses at 52 percent, followed by cocaine at 49 percent.

City officials have distributed at least 15,000 kits of naloxone, an overdose antidote, to areas with the most problems. The city is also conducting initiatives to prevent overdoses through educational outreach, according to officials.

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