ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM/AP) – An estimated 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in one year, a never-before-seen milestone that health officials say is tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and a more dangerous drug supply. The City of Elmira is also seeing more overdoses and more drug-related deaths this year. Since the beginning of 2021, 108 people have overdosed and more than 20 have died from an overdose in Elmira.
“Although the deaths are up, I still believe that we are saving lives. Again, that still leads to the fact that we are having an increase in actual overdoses as well,” City of Elmira Police Chief Anthony Alvernaz told 18 News.
In Steuben County, overdoses have increased, too. The Sheriff’s department said there have been 16 deaths in 2021. They track drug use in the county through a Narcan map, which shows every time Narcan is administered.
“Addiction of all types is our number one public safety issue,” Steuben County Sheriff Jim Allard said.
Governor Kathy Hochul announced that New York State has secured $2 million in federal funding through the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program to aid addiction service providers in the fight against the opioid crisis. The funding will be used to establish Mobile Medication Units (MMUs) to dispense medications to treat substance use disorder, including methadone and buprenorphine. This follows the rules issued by the federal DEA to allow these units to be operated by existing Opioid Treatment Program (OTP) Providers. These will be the first MMUs in New York State.
“Fighting the opioid crisis is a personal battle for me, and we will continue to do all that we can to boost resources and services for those struggling with addiction. These first-of-their-kind Mobile Medication Units in New York State will bring this important service directly to New Yorkers in need and allow them to receive critical services to support them on their road to recovery.”Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-New York)
Locally, resources are available for those suffering from substance abuse disorder and addiction. Both Chief Alvernaz and Sheriff Allard say their offices provide services to help those who need them.
“If you don’t know where to go, call the Sheriff’s office, call 211, or call anyone that’s involved in the Opioid Committee or the Prevention Coalition, and we’ll get the information to you,” Sheriff Allard added.
Overdose deaths have been rising for more than two decades, accelerated in the past two years, and, according to new data posted Wednesday, jumped nearly 30% in the latest year.
President Joe Biden called it “a tragic milestone” in a statement, as administration officials pressed Congress to devote billions of dollars more to address the problem.
“This is unacceptable and it requires an unprecedented response,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of National Drug Control Policy.
Experts believe the top drivers of overdose deaths are the growing prevalence of deadly fentanyl in the illicit drug supply and the COVID-19 pandemic, which left many drug users socially isolated and unable to get treatment or other support.
Drug overdoses now surpass deaths from car crashes, guns, and even flu and pneumonia. The total is close to that for diabetes, the nation’s No. 7 cause of death.
Drawing from the latest available death certificate data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 100,300 Americans died of drug overdoses from May 2020 to April 2021. It’s not an official count. It can take many months for death investigations involving drug fatalities to become final, so the agency made the estimate based on 98,000 reports it has received so far.
The CDC previously reported there were about 93,000 overdose deaths in 2020, the highest number recorded in a calendar year. Robert Anderson, the CDC’s chief of mortality statistics, said the 2021 tally is likely to surpass 100,000.
“2021 is going to be terrible,” agreed Dr. Daniel Ciccarone, a drug policy expert at the University of California, San Francisco.
The new data shows many of the deaths involve illicit fentanyl, a highly lethal opioid that five years ago surpassed heroin as the type of drug involved in the most overdose deaths. Dealers have mixed fentanyl with other drugs — one reason that deaths from methamphetamines and cocaine also are rising.
Drug cartels in Mexico are using chemicals from China to mass-produce and distribute fentanyl and meth across America, said Anne Milgram, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
This year, the DEA has seized 12,000 pounds of fentanyl, a record amount, Milgram said. But public health experts and even police officials say that law enforcement measures will not stop the epidemic, and more needs to be done to dampen demand and prevent deaths.
The CDC has not yet calculated racial and ethnic breakdowns of the overdose victims.