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New York City officials see progress in effort to curb opioid deaths

NEW YORK — Early into the final year of his first term in office, Mayor Bill de Blasio tacitly acknowledged what could no longer be ignored: New York City, like much of the country, had a worsening problem of drug overdoses from heroin and opioids, and the city’s response had been inadequate.

Overdose deaths surged to 1,374 in 2016, the majority from opioids, despite a “comprehensive effort” introduced the year before, when there had been 937 overdoses. The city’s plan had focused on increasing the availability of naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal medication.

Last year, de Blasio sharply increased the city’s spending on its response to $38 million per year under its Healing NYC program, helping pay for treatment sites, more naloxone kits and for former addicts to act as an emergency response team after an overdose.


The increased attention seems to have helped: The Police Department has preliminarily attributed 924 deaths to overdoses in 2017, although that number is almost certain to rise as official death investigations conclude.

How much the efforts by the city have helped drive the decline is unclear; some health professionals suggest that the city is apportioning too much of its money on police efforts, and not enough on extending treatment.

The Police Department is the biggest beneficiary of the spending: $15 million a year for 84 detectives, mostly assigned to Heroin Overdose Teams.

After an overdose, narcotics detectives begin by noting any distinguishing marks on the heroin packaging and poring over the cellphone records of the overdose victim to look for the source of the drugs.