By Michael O'Keeffe | Updated June 21, 2023 via Newsday
Fatal drug overdoses jumped in Nassau County last year, an increase over 2021 that officials blamed mostly on fentanyl — a cheap and deadly synthetic opioid — even as opioid deaths recorded a slight decrease in Suffolk County.
More than 300 people died of fatal drug overdoses in Nassau last year, County Executive Bruce Blakeman said Tuesday in Garden City.
Exact 2022 numbers were not immediately available, but there were 270 overdose deaths in 2021, according to the Nassau County Medical Examiner’s office. Fentanyl caused 190 of those deaths, statistics show.
Blakeman reported the jump in fatal overdoses at a news conference with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who traveled to the Nassau County Police Center for Training and Intelligence to announce a bill the New York Democrat introduced and said would allow the federal government to seize the assets of fentanyl traffickers.
WHAT TO KNOW
More than 300 people died of opioid overdoses in Nassau County last year, an increase over 2021, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said Tuesday.
Officials blame fentanyl, a cheap and deadly synthetic opioid, for the majority of overdose deaths in Nassau and Suffolk.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand introduced a bill in the Senate aimed at allowing the federal government to seize the assets of fentanyl traffickers, she said.
“These deaths have been fueled by the illegal trafficking of fentanyl that is primarily made with Chinese chemicals and supplies and manufactured in Mexico,” Gillibrand said.
There were 412 opioid overdoses reported last year in Suffolk, according to the county’s medical examiner’s office, including 25 cases that are pending final clearance. That’s a 4.6% decrease from 2021 when 431 people died of opioid overdoses, figures show. The majority of those deaths — 383 last year and 399 in 2021 — were linked to fentanyl.
Suffolk had 390 fatal overdoses in 2020, a nearly 12% jump over the 349 deaths in 2019.
Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder blamed the rise in fatal overdoses on drug manufacturers who mix cocaine, heroin and counterfeit prescription drugs with fentanyl, which the Drug Enforcement Administration says is 100 times more potent than morphine.
Six of 10 counterfeit pills analyzed by the DEA in 2022 contained a lethal dose of the synthetic opioid, the agency said, up from 4 out of 10 analyzed in 2021.
“These kids are taking a simple Adderall at college, to help them with their studying and focus, and that Adderall has been crushed and sprinkled with fentanyl, to try to suck them in to get them addicted so they can sell more,” Ryder said. “It is strictly a business model, and it is killing our children.”
Thousands of Long Island residents have died of fatal overdoses since the opioid crisis began in the late 1990s, and drug deaths hit a record 109,689 nationwide last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in May. The previous record was set in 2021, when 107,622 died of a drug overdose.
“I look across the United States and I see hundreds of people that die from fentanyl overdoses each and every single day," Blakeman said. "It’s as if an airliner crashed everyday.”
Public health experts said the isolation, depression and financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge in drug and alcohol abuse — and in overdose deaths.
Steve Chassman, the executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, said the past three years have brought “an abundance of grief and loss.”
“I also think it's fentanyl infiltrating the national drug supply, which is why we don’t call some of these deaths overdoses, we call them poisonings,” said Chassman, who also appeared at the news conference. “When you buy Xanax on the street or from a quote-unquote friend, and then you end up on a gurney with fentanyl, that’s poisoning.”
Gillibrand’s bill, The Fentanyl Eradication and Narcotics Deterrence (FEND) Off Fentanyl Act, would declare international trafficking of fentanyl a national emergency and require the president to sanction trafficking organizations and key members. It would allow the federal government to seize U.S. assets of fentanyl traffickers and would bar fentanyl traffickers from owning property, investing or banking in this country.
“There is so much more we can do at the federal level to stop this dangerous drug from entering the United States,” Gillibrand said.