Health Department expands overdose prevention campaign to Brooklyn, starting with House of Yes

New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot announces an opioid outreach effort in an event at House of Yes in Bushwick, Brooklyn, on Thursday.
New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot announces an opioid outreach effort in an event at House of Yes in Bushwick, Brooklyn, on Thursday. Photo Credit: Hulu/Barbara Nitke

The city is expanding a nightlife-centric campaign to prevent overdoses by spreading the word about the presence of the deadly opioid fentanyl in cocaine and distributing overdose-reversal kits to club and bar owners in North Brooklyn. 

The city Health Department on Thursday announced it will expand the pilot program launched last year on the Lower East Side to a part of Brooklyn where a heavy concentration of bars and nightclubs could mean a higher volume of patrons using recreational drugs that might be laced with fentanyl.

“This area is a nightlife destination in New York City — we want to reach people who may use cocaine occasionally as part of their night out,” said Department of Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, who announced the campaign’s expansion at Bushwick’s House of Yes, the first venue in the borough to incorporate the program. 

Beginning immediately, Department of Health staff are venturing door-to-door throughout the area. The department is distributing posters and coasters to venues to let patrons know that fentanyl has been detected in cocaine in the city and that they should stay safe by using with others and carrying naloxone, also known as narcan, a nasal spray that reverses opioid overdoses. Staff will also offer bar owners naloxone kits and training to use them on site. 

In 2017, fentanyl was found in 39% of overdose deaths involving cocaine that was not mixed with heroin, an increase of 37% from the previous year and a dramatic spike from only 11% in 2015, according to the Health Department. This suggests people could be unknowingly consuming fentanyl, which is 30% to 50% stronger than heroin, the department noted. 

“Folks who use cocaine even occasionally run the risk of using cocaine that may be contaminated with fentanyl — we know that fentanyl kills,” said Barbot. “This is part of our overall lifesaving measures to continue reducing the number of people that die because of opioid overdose.”

As part of those measures and in response to an increased number of overdoses, the department has been distributing naloxone kits to overdose prevention programs the Bronx, home to neighborhoods with the highest number of opioid overdose deaths in 2017.

Barbot was joined on Thursday by Ariel Palitz, senior executive director of the Office of Nightlife — also known as the Nightlife Mayor — and David Rosen, the co-founder of Brooklyn Allied Bars and Restaurants (BABAR), which is participating in the awareness campaign. 

Jacqui Rabkin, the marketing and cultural director at the House of Yes, said the venue was thrilled to help pioneer the campaign in Brooklyn. The site has garnered a reputation for being a  “club with causes,” she noted, pointing to a campaign around consent that prioritizes keeping clubgoers safe. 

“Participating in this campaign is a no-brainer for us,” said Rabkin. “It’s one of many ways we can make our communities safer.”

When asked whether the effort would expand to the other boroughs, Barbot said the department would take such considerations “on a case-by-case basis.”

“We had good results in the Lower East Side,” she said. “We anticipate the same here, and we continue to look for opportunities to expand.”

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