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Emergency Rally Calls on City Hall to Increase Funding & Political Action Toward a Public Health Approach to End Record Overdose Deaths in New York City

New data shows 1,347 overdose deaths in 2016, a 46% increase from 2015; 6th consecutive year of increases in overdose deaths.

Drug Policy Alliance

Data also shows disproportionate impacts among black New Yorkers, Staten Island and Bronx residents and those living in high-poverty neighborhoods.

City Hall, NYC—(ENEWSPF)—June 16, 2017. Dozens gathered on the steps of City Hall Friday for an emergency rally in response to data released Tuesday night by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that confirmed 2016 as the 6th consecutive year of climbing overdose deaths. According to the report, 1,347 people citywide died from overdose last year, a 46% increase from 2015. On average, four New Yorkers died as a result of an overdose every day in 2016.

The rally brought together advocates, public health experts, service providers and people with a history of drug use unified in a common message: The City must invest greater resources toward a public health approach to the opioid and overdose epidemic. Attendees criticized the City for directing millions from HealingNYC toward the NYPD’s policing efforts, stating that the NYPD is already well-funded, and demanding that resources be reallocated to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene where they could be spent saving lives.

“In the face of these striking numbers, the city – and state – must invest more resources, and political will, toward a public health approach to ending overdose deaths,” said Terrell Jones, a leader of VOCAL-NY and a former drug user turned public health worker after years of incarceration. “We applaud funding that has gone toward harm reduction services and naloxone, but we demand that the millions that went to the NYPD from HealingNYC be immediately shifted to the Department of Health. The NYPD has enough money and an army of officers. Decades of criminalization has not had an impact on drug use. It is time to admit that.”

Along with prioritizing funding for public health and harm reduction services, there was a large focus on the need to support public health policies like supervised injection facilities, also known as safer consumption spaces. In the short term, it is imperative to pass (Int 1443), city legislation sponsored by Council Member Torres that calls for training of all shelter staff on overdose reversal techniques. Overdose is the leading cause of death inside city shelters.

“We can’t sit back any longer while our friends and loved ones die when we know there is more we could be doing, right now, to protect those most at risk,” said Shantae Owens, a leader of VOCAL-NY. “I spent most of the ‘90s homeless and injecting in public spaces. I have lost friends. I have barely survived overdoses and I am HIV+ because syringe exchange was not even available then. People who have been through what I have been through have long known that we need safe consumption spaces. The sooner New York allows safe consumption spaces, the more lives we’ll save.”

“In the face of such overwhelming tragedy we cannot sit still or ponder over politics — we need action,” said Council Member Stephen Levin, Chair of the General Welfare Committee. “The opioid crisis is touching communities across our city, it is touching families, it is cutting lives far too short. We need to come together — health care institutions, law enforcement, non profits, faith communities, policy makers — and be part of the solution.”

Along with prioritizing funding for public health and harm reduction services, there was a large focus on the need to support public health policies like supervised injection facilities, also known as safer consumption spaces. In the short term, it is imperative to pass (Int 1443), city legislation sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres that calls for training of all shelter staff on overdose reversal techniques. Overdose is the leading cause of death inside city shelters. “Every elected official should be doing their part to stem the tide of this tragic crisis,” stated CM Torres. I am trying to do my part with legislation I have introduced to ensure all shelter staff are trained in overdose reversal. This is critical given that overdose is the leading cause of death inside our city’s shelters.‎”

“Every death is tragic, but preventable deaths provoke both heartache and frustration.” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Committee on Health. “We as a city must employ every tool available to us, including safe injection facilities, to treat this health epidemic plaguing our city. Our most vulnerable populations are suffering due to years of inaction and we can no longer allow that to be the case.”

“The increase in overdose deaths confirmed the dire need to utilize all tools at our disposal to keep people from dying as we see increased presence of opioids, particularly fentanyl,” said Jose M. Davila, President and CEO, BOOM!Health. “Strengthening existing harm reduction strategies and expanding to include Supervised Consumption Spaces must be a priority- we cannot stand by as OD rates continue to rise, we must continue to fight for the lives of our citizens with all available strategies.”

“We have the tools to turn this crisis around and we urgently need to ramp them up.  Medical treatment, supervised injection facilities, and easy access to naloxone.   Buprenorphine treatment should be as accessible as fentanyl  and heroin are on the streets now,” Sharon Stancliff, MD, Medical Director at Harm Reduction Coalition.

“The latest data showing another year of increased overdose deaths in New York City is devastating. The fact that overdose deaths among Black New Yorkers increased by 80 percent in the span of a year shows we need to do more to ensure all communities have access to treatment and care,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York state director at the Drug Policy Alliance. “If we want to save lives, reduce criminalization, and end racial disparities, we need comprehensive, innovative, and forward-thinking approaches like safer consumption spaces and medication assisted treatment. New York City is in a unique position to step up and implement innovative drug policies rooted in science, compassion, and public health as we did with syringe exchanges before.”

“The New York Academy of Medicine sees safe consumption spaces as a promising strategy moving forward to reduce overdose deaths and to engage injection drug users in health care and drug treatment services,” said Peter Schafer, Acting Director, Center for Health Policy and Programs, The New York Academy of Medicine.

Overdose deaths have surpassed the combined total of deaths related to traffic accidents and homicides in New York City. While overdose rates rose among all demographics and in nearly every neighborhood, black New Yorkers, Bronx and Staten Island residents, and people living in high-poverty communities have experienced the largest increase, according to DOHMH.

Related Material:

Click here for a press statement released yesterday from VOCAL-NY.

EPI Data Brief here.

Source: www.drugpolicy.org

 

 

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