The New York City (NYC) Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has launched a pilot awareness campaign warning New Yorkers about cocaine that could be laced with fentanyl. The campaign launched on May 23, 2018 in the Lower East Side bars and night clubs, saw the Health Department staff distribute posters and coasters among people, informing them about the dangers of cocaine being laced with fentanyl.
In addition to the dissemination of information, bar and venue owners in the area would be supplied with naloxone kits and their staff would be trained to administer the life-saving drug. According to Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett, “We’re going into bars and nightclubs because we want to reach people who may only use cocaine occasionally. We want them to know that fentanyl is in our cocaine supply, and they are at risk of an opioid overdose.” The campaign is a part of the HealingNYC.
One of the most widely used synthetic opioids, fentanyl has now become the most common drug involved in fatal overdoses in the United States. Fentanyl is often sought illegally and mixed with heroin and cocaine to heighten their effects.
The HealingNYC campaign
Launched by Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray, the HealingNYC campaign aims to reduce opioid overdose deaths by 35 percent over the next five years in New York and protect those at risk of overdose. The campaign is one of the steps taken by NYC to address the opioid epidemic. Some of the other steps involve preventing opioid misuse, addiction and overdose deaths; connecting New Yorkers to effective treatments; and reducing the supply of dangerous drugs before they come into the city. The campaign plans to improve the lives of many people through prevention strategies, heightened awareness and changes in clinical practices. The campaign also plans to add $38 million annually to combat the opioid epidemic.
Fentanyl involved in more overdose deaths across New York
More potent than heroin or morphine, fentanyl is often added to other illicit drugs like cocaine, heroin, meth and opioids. Even a small quantity is enough to cause severe damage whether through ingestion or exposure. What makes the drug even more dangerous is the fact that users are often unaware of being sold fentanyl disguised as other drugs.
Before 2015, fentanyl was responsible for fewer than 5 percent of overdose cases in the city. In 2016, heroin or fentanyl was involved in almost 90 percent of fatal opioid overdoses. In 2015, while only 11 percent of people who had succumbed to cocaine overdose had fentanyl in their system, it increased to 37 percent in 2016. Of the 1,441 overdose deaths confirmed in 2017, 80 percent included opioid-related cases, with half of them caused due to fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid that is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for limited use as a pain-reliever and an anesthetic. Individuals who abuse the drug put themselves at a high risk of life-threatening consequences. Fentanyl overdose can be deadly therefore, in case of a suspected overdose, call 911 or reach out to the nearest emergency department.
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