Analysis: The deadly drug epidemic gripping America’s northeast has reached record-breaking levels, now responsible for more than 33,000 overdose deaths, including more than 10,000 in New York City alone.
The annual death toll is expected to hit an all-time high in 2018, a 600 percent increase from the number of deaths in 2003, according to a federal study reported in the Washington Post Wednesday.
Michael Botticelli, the former drug czar under President Barack Obama, now a senior adviser at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness, said New York is “going to overtake New England, with West Virginia being far behind.”
“This is an epidemic that’s gotten to be truly out of control,” Botticelli said in an interview with The Washington Times. “It is going to be one of the biggest public health crises this country has faced in decades.”
The opioid crisis in the northeast has claimed more lives than the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, which claimed 35,000 lives nationwide between 1982 and 1991.
Botticelli said the deaths have been mainly driven by the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The deadly drug, which was invented as a legal painkiller for laboratory procedures, has taken over as the leading cause of overdose deaths in America.
Overdose deaths, particularly fentanyl, increased through 2016, according to the Washington Post’s analysis.
In 2016, more than 5,400 drug deaths involved fentanyl.
For the first time in 2017, New York and New Jersey led the country in overdose deaths by a large margin.
Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, who represents New Jersey, said the epidemic represents “a modern public health crisis with no easy answers.”
“It is up to Congress to act to save lives,” Menendez said in a statement. “New Jersey simply cannot stand by while the Trump administration’s gutting of enforcement efforts and inaction on treatment and drug courts allow this epidemic to continue on its unending march.”
The epidemic led New York City to declare a public health emergency in August 2016. Officials reported that the official number of deaths had peaked at 2,561 in 2015, about 100 deaths below the record of 2,711 set in 2012.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said then the spike in deaths would probably slow after public education and more resources were put into battling the epidemic.
“We believe the increases in overdoses, particularly with fentanyl, is beginning to plateau,” he said.
But the number of deaths rose again last year, jumping to more than 3,000. At least 2,769 of the deaths involved synthetic opioids fentanyl and heroin or cocaine.
“This is becoming a national epidemic,” said Frank van Mosk, a spokesman for New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “The effects of fentanyl and carfentanil are so lethal that there is nothing we can do to stop its spread.”
The drug crisis has taken a huge toll on families in the metro New York area.
Some people who are addicted to heroin and prescription opioids must live in car-repair garages and in cabins on their properties to get the drugs.
Other parents are left behind with children they feel they can no longer afford to care for.
For some parents, it has taken years of waiting for help that could have given them a better chance of avoiding the opioid crisis.
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