Numbers are coming in from the medical examiners’ offices and Long Island is projected to have a total of 600 deaths from opioid overdoses in 2017 – an increase of 45 fatalities from the year prior. Although the statistics are saddening and may seem like our drug addiction problem is only getting worse, we can actually find hope in this data.
The rise in overdose deaths from 2016 to 2017 could end up being a smaller gap than we’ve seen in the past few years, showing us that what we have been doing as a community is working! Jeffrey Reynolds, president of Family and Children’s Association, a group in Mineola fighting for drug addiction treatment to be available to all, said, “At this point we still look for a sign of hope and signs of progress. Maybe this is our first glimpse.”
Just like Reynolds, officials are choosing to interpret these numbers in a positive light. The chief forensic toxicologist of Nassau County, Joseph Avella, feels that, “If we’re not seeing double-digit increases, you have to say that’s a positive.” Last year, Nassau County had a confirmed total of 195 overdose fatalities. The projection for this year will also be 195, showing no increase.
The variable that has remained similar from year to year is fentanyl – it is taking over and killing more of our children, spouses, and friends than any other substance on Long Island. Even as we wait for pending toxicology reports from the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s Office, the official total of fentanyl deaths so far is already at 238, overshadowing last year’s total of 208.
Now that we know fentanyl is making its way to every street corner, we can be more prepared. As of August 2017, naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal medication, is now accessible inexpensively or even free to those of us with prescription health insurance. Naloxone is becoming easily available and has already prevented 46 opioid overdoses from ending in death in 2018 according to Nassau County Police Commissioner, Patrick Ryder.
Law-enforcement is also using the information we’ve been gaining about overdose trends in order to help combat addiction on Long Island. Ryder released an app in Nassau County called The Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP) which links all law enforcement, first-responders, and hospitals. Information about the overdose calls will be uploaded and placed on the map so police can observe trends of drug activity and crime, all in real time.
The more people suffering from opioid addiction we can save from overdosing, the more people we can help get clean. Concerned Long Islanders working hand-in-hand with medical professionals, law enforcement, outreach organizations, and politicians is a step in the right direction. Drug addiction can be overcome, we just have to help addicts receive the proper treatment they deserve.