Heroin Fuels Surge in Overdoses — WSJ

By Zolan Kanno-Youngs 
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Fatal drug overdoses across New York City jumped 66% from 2010 to 2015, with heroin’s deadly role growing year by year, according to a study released Tuesday by the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

In 2015, 937 New Yorkers unintentionally overdosed compared with 541 in 2010. Heroin was involved in 556, or 59%, of the fatal overdoses in 2015.

The Bronx has grown into an area of attention for public-health officials grappling with what they call an epidemic of heroin use. The borough recorded 146 fatal heroin-involved overdoses in 2015, first among the five boroughs with a rate of 13 residents per 100,000 dying from heroin.

“We are concerned about the Bronx,” said Hillary Kunins, who oversees the department’s Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Use — Prevention, Care and Treatment. “In those neighborhoods in particular we are seeing younger people being affected and the steepest increases have been among Latinos as well.”

Staten Island had 38 heroin-involved deaths in 2015. That placed the borough second behind the Bronx with a heroin-death rate of 10.7 per 100,000 residents. In what amounted to a brighter note, however, Staten Island was the only borough to see a decline in such deaths in 2015.

White New Yorkers had the highest death rate from heroin-involved overdoes in 2015, the study showed. Among the city’s ethnic or racial groups, Latinos saw the biggest jump in such overdoses from 2014 to 2015 — 51%.

Fentanyl, an opioid more powerful than heroin, resulted in 16% of fatal overdoses in 2015, according to the study. In the previous 10 years, 3% of overdose deaths, at most, involved the synthetic drug.

Dr. Kunins cited what she described as an over-prescription of pain relievers, such as oxycodone, as a primary reason for the rise in abuse of the substances known as opioids. “Those drugs are important for controlling pain but are also risky drugs and can expose people to developing an addiction,” she said.

Dr. Kunins said a three-year, $25 million city initiative announced earlier this year would pay for new drug-addiction counseling, syringe access and more than 7,000 naloxone kits. Naloxone reverses the effects of heroin and prescription opioids.

Donna Mae DePola, president of the Resource Training and Counseling Center in Brooklyn, said she signed a lease Tuesday for a new recovery center in Staten Island. She said the city needed not just to add resources to fight drug abuse but to take on the stigma associated with addicts.

“In the totem pole of life, drug addicts are the section of totem poles in the ground,” said Ms. DePola, who has been in recovery from heroin addiction for 30 years. “Nobody wants to know about us.”

Write to Zolan Kanno-Youngs at Zolan.Kanno-Youngs[a]wsj.com

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