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New York City’s worst public-health crisis is growing. No, not COVID, but deadly overdoses.
OD deaths are up 78% from pre-pandemic levels, claiming 1,233 lives during the first half of 2021, a 28% spike over the same period in 2020.
The city Department of Health blames fentanyl, since the vast majority of those deaths were tied to the powerful synthetic opioid, which is often used to cut other narcotics. More than a ton of fentanyl was seized statewide in 2021 (95% of it in NYC); in 2020, the NYPD found that some 80% of all heroin it tested contained the drug.
Across the Empire State, drug’s hideous toll totals more than 14,500 deaths since 2015.
So it’s good news that the city will be dedicating funds from a massive state settlement with the pharmaceutical industry to opioid addiction and treatment centers, but it’s not enough.
Especially as long as our so-called safe injection sites stay open. Yes, users can test their drugs for fentanyl and get anti-overdose medications if necessary. But while they may save lives at the margins, they will likely cost lives overall by helping solidify the lawless culture around drug use in New York City, encouraging addiction and lowering quality of life.
Fentanyl, to be clear, is a national problem, increasingly driving US deaths for nearly a decade. In 2020, 29,000 Americans aged 15 to 34 died of drug overdoses. (That’s more than nine times as many as died from COVID in that age group in that period, by the way.) Overall, fentanyl-involved deaths are outpacing those from prescription opioids by 550%.
Look at teens, and the picture grows darker still: OD mortality rose 94% for drug users aged 14 to 18 from 2019 to 2020, and looks to have gone up another 20% in 2021. That’s without a drastic increase in overall number of teen users, suggesting it’s the drugs that have gotten deadlier.
This poison flows into the country through our porous southern border via the trafficking efforts of Mexican cartels using raw Chinese materials to synthesize the drug. Which casts the news that the Biden administration has hit another insane milestone — the fastest pace of border encounters in at least the last two decades, with more than 1 million since October — in a new, terrifying light, since agents stopping illegal migrants aren’t stopping illegal drugs.
So too with the president’s move to end Title 42 expulsions, and his planned slashes to the ranks of border-enforcement officers.
These are, again, the exact wrong moves. More, not less, border enforcement is needed. That means leaving Title 42 in place and not cutting CBP ranks. It also means pressure on Mexico to get its house in order (reactivating its just-shut-down elite federal anti-drug unit would be a good start).
Absent strong policies, there’s no real solution. Sadly, the Biden White House lacks the political will to do what’s right. Which means this epidemic — far deadlier for the young than COVID — is going to get worse here and around the country.