Death toll from heroin skyrockets in New York City

The number of people who died from unintentional heroin overdoses in New York City last year was the highest in a decade, according to data released last week by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

In New York, where the overall rate of drug overdose deaths has dramatically risen since 2010, a national problem is playing out on the city’s streets. The number of overdoses involving heroin has significantly increased since 2010 and accounted for more than half of the city’s overdoses last year. And more than three-quarters of the overdoses involved an opioid.

The data comes amid a pair of national epidemics operating in tandem: A surge in heroin use nationwide has been accompanied by a much larger opioid epidemic, with drugs such as oxycodone and hydrocodone responsible for the majority of unintentional overdoses involving pharmaceutical drugs.

The number of heroin overdose deaths has risen every year since 2010. The number more than doubled last year since 2010, from 209 to 420.

Most heroin overdoses occurred in the Bronx and Staten Island, but the situation was also alarming in Queens, where the overdose rate more than doubled last year after trailing the other boroughs in 2011 and 2012.

As has been the case for years, the rate of overdoses is the highest among white residents. But the rate has skyrocketed among Hispanic residents, more than doubling from 2010.

Another troubling trend noted by the Health Department was the increase in the rate of overdoses among younger New Yorkers. The biggest increase in heroin overdoses was among people between 15 and 34, though people 35 to 54 still had the highest rate.

The Health Department also reported that the overwhelming majority, 94 percent, of overdoses involved more than one substance.

As part of the push to combat deaths from heroin and opioids, nearly 20,000 police officers in New York City are being equipped with naloxone, a drug that treats overdoses by reversing extremely slow breathing. Other departments are also preparing to train first responders with naloxone.

The Food and Drug Administration approved a device earlier this year that would allow family members to administer a dose of naloxone during an emergency, fast-tracking its approval because of the dramatic increase in the number of deaths from opioid overdoses.

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