Drug OD Deaths in City Decreased in 2018  for the First Time in Eight Years: Health Dept.

Drug OD Deaths in City Decreased in 2018 for the First Time in Eight Years: Health Dept.

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In 2018, opioids, including heroin, were the culprit in 80 percent of overdose deaths.

By Michael V. Cusenza

In 2018, there were 1,444 unintentional drug poisoning deaths in the city, compared with 1,482 in 2017—38 fewer deaths—marking for the first time in eight years a decrease in such deaths in NYC, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced Monday.

The rate of overdose death decreased 3 percent to 20.5 per 100,000 residents in 2018 from 21.1 per 100,000 residents in 2017.

According to the DOHMH data brief, from 2017 to 2018 the number of overdose deaths decreased among residents of Queens (-55 deaths) and Brooklyn (-82 deaths).

However, the rates of OD deaths increased among residents of the Bronx (+29 deaths), Manhattan (+42 deaths), and Staten Island (+14 deaths), though in Staten Island and Manhattan are lower than in 2016.

In 2018, opioids were the culprit in 80 percent of overdose deaths. And for the second year in a row, fentanyl was the most common substance involved in drug overdose deaths, present in 60 percent of OD deaths in 2018. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

More 2018 data highlights:

  • Among New Yorkers ages 55 to 84, overdose death rates increased for the fourth consecutive year.
  • The rate of overdose deaths among Latinos increased by 5 percent, while rates decreased among black and white New Yorkers by 13 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
  • The rate of overdose deaths among females increased by 7 percent, from 2017 to 2018, from 8.5 to 9.1 per 100,000; compared with a 6-percent decrease among males from 2017 to 2018, from 35 to 33 per 100,000.
  • Cocaine was involved in 52 percent of overdose deaths in 2018. Since 2014, the rate of cocaine-involved overdose death has more than doubled (to 10.7 per 100,000 in 2018 from 4.7 per 100,000 in 2014).
  • 157 overdose deaths involved cocaine and fentanyl without heroin, an increase from 146 overdose deaths in 2017.
  • Half of all overdose deaths involved multiple central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol (40 percent), benzodiazepines (29 percent), and opioids (80 percent).
  • Opioid painkillers, excluding fentanyl, were involved in the fewest number (156) of overdose deaths since 2009, when opioid painkillers were involved in 145 deaths.

DOHMH also released this week drug overdose data for the first quarter of 2019 (January through March), which shows 331 overdose deaths, two fewer than the final quarter of 2018. There were 49 confirmed overdose deaths in Queens in the first quarter of 2019.

“The decrease in drug overdose deaths is promising, but far too many New Yorkers are still dying,” said Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, M.D. “We are closely monitoring the trends of the epidemic as they evolve and responding to upticks in emergency department visits and deaths with targeted strategies and community engagement. We remain firmly committed to expanding life-saving services and caring for New Yorkers who use drugs.”

According to the City, every seven hours, someone dies of a drug overdose in the five boroughs. More New Yorkers die of drug overdoses than homicides, suicides, and motor vehicle crashes combined.


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