Bronx Battles Opioid Epidemic

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Bronx Battles Opioid Epidemic

A demonstrator advocates for an end to the Drug War at a city march.

A demonstrator advocates for an end to the Drug War at a city march.

A demonstrator advocates for an end to the Drug War at a city march.

A demonstrator advocates for an end to the Drug War at a city march.

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A demonstrator advocates for an end to the Drug War at a city march.

By Aislinn Keely

Overdose deaths increased in the Bronx as more fatal cases were discovered alone and in public areas. In response to the growing epidemic of opioid use and fatal overdose rate, City Hall is funneling money into outreach.

Elizabeth Evans, executive director of New York Harm Reduction Educators (NYHRE), works to promote local outreach in the Bronx and Harlem by increasing access to treatment, emergency training, HIV and Hepatitis B testing, as well as further the conversation surrounding addiction.

Of the five New York boroughs, the Bronx had the highest overdose-related mortality rate in 2016 with 308 of the 1,374 overdose-related deaths in New York City, according to The New York Times. This shows an increase since 2010.
“In New York City one person dies [of overdose] every seven hours. The combination of factors as to why that’s happening is complicated,” said Evans.

However, Evans said that the stigmatization of addiction can push people into “dangerous” situations where they hide while using and use alone. This can lead to an overdose in places where a user will not be found and cannot be helped.

Fordham-Bronx Park was one of the top five neighborhoods for opioid-related overdose deaths in 2015 and 2016, according to The New York Times. There is a greater risk of overdose-related deaths in areas that have less access to housing and shelters, according to Evans. The lack of opportunity to reach out and talk about addiction can contribute to the high mortality rate.

The epidemic is growing in part to difficulties reaching people who do not want to receive abstinence-based treatment, which promotes complete sobriety as opposed to other treatment methods like harm reduction. Abstinence-based treatment has been very effective for some people, but not all, according to Evans.

“At that same moment in time, there are many people who are not ready to be in treatment, and for that population of people, who are huge, at any given time, I don’t believe we’re reaching them with services they will receive in that moment of crisis,” she said.

Evans has worked with many addicts who have faced incarceration and multiple traumas in their lives. “Drug use tends to be amplified at times when people are facing multiple stressors,” she said.

The Times reported a trend in overdose deaths among white residents in the Bronx. Though making up only nine percent of the Bronx population, white residents were the leading demographic for overdoses.

“Drugs don’t discriminate between race, but there is obviously many factors that lead to why people in various populations and various demographics are more at risk of overdose and social exclusion, and obvious barriers get in the way of people accessing services,” Evans said. These factors can include poverty and racism, according to Evans.

Conversation, particularly “talking honestly about drug use in a way that is not judgmental, that allows and enables a conversation to exist,” is paramount to produce change, according to Evans.

“The added stigma and shame of being a drug user can really amplify and intensify those feelings, so the simple act of somebody caring to help them when they’ve overdosed or when their life is at risk sends a very powerful message to that person that their life does matter,” she said.

Access to training in high-risk areas is important as well, according to Evans. “People who are living in a very close proximity to people who are using aren’t aware of how they can help save their lives,” she said.

Education on how to administer naloxone, a life-saving drug used in the case of opioid overdoses with the brand name Narcan, makes an impact, according to Evans. Carrying naloxone can save lives. There are city-wide efforts to increase training on how to administer naloxone. NYHRE hosts workshops on what to do in the event of an overdose and how to administer naloxone.

Mayor de Blasio allocated $38 million a year in an effort to reduce overdose-related deaths by 35 percent in the next five years.

“I think the city should be congratulated for the amount of money and effort it’s placing into this campaign. It’s incredibly important to push naloxone as much and as far and as widely as possible because it is effective at saving lives,” Evans said. “Of course, there is always more we can do.”