Amid an epidemic of heroin and prescription opioid fatality that’s been plaguing the region, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to reduce the number of overdose deaths in the city by 35 percent over the next five years. Mayor de Blasio, who faces what many are forecasting to be a contentious reelection season this year, made this promise in his state of the city address last month. Despite a historically rocky relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo, both have exhibited a clear commitment to dealing with addiction using a compassionate, treatment-first approach in a climate that has generally used incarceration as a first resort.
Among the ways the current administration intends to make good on the vow are expansion of medication-assisted treatment resources, better-equipping city hospitals to deal with addiction and overdoses; increasingly zealous prosecution of illicit opioid distributors and heroin dealers and increased access to the lifesaving anti-overdose drug Narcan. While the Mayor’s plans are certainly admirable (and welcome in an area that has been so heavily plagued by addiction), they are contingent upon him being in office for a second term. This is why it’s critical that anti-overdose measure transcend political factions and be embraced at the non-partisan, grass-roots community level.
Last year, the number of overdose fatalities in NYC nearly matched the number of murders and non-fatal shootings combined. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene estimates that NYC saw 1,300 overdose deaths in 2016, over a thousand of which were the direct result of opioid painkillers and heroin. Law Enforcement, while critical to the Mayor’s recently announced plan, is less integral than previous initiatives. The NYPD, however, will draft dozens of narcotics and homicide investigators to establish “Overdose Response Squads” that will work with federal authorities to target dealers and seek homicide charges against them when users overdose.