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As Overdoses Climb, NY Groups Seek Solutions

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Thursday, December 23, 2021   

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced another staggering new death count amid the pandemic: more than 100,000 fatal drug overdoses from April 2020 to 2021.

Groups working to curb such preventable deaths in Brooklyn are also pushing for solutions statewide. The group Voices Of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL NY), distributes clean needles, fentanyl test strips and Narcan, which can reverse an overdose.

Darryl Roberson, senior peer in the group Voices Of Community Activists and Leaders, works on the ground with participants.

"Overdoses are common, but we've saved a lot of lives," Roberson explained. "I see down the road, that we can defeat it; we have to still have a lot of support."

VOCAL NY is among 240 organizations across the nation now calling for passage of federal legislation which could help prevent opioid deaths in every neighborhood. In a letter sent to Congress, they have called for swift passage of the federal STOP Fentanyl Act, which improves surveillance and detection of the potent drug.

New York City's Health Department reports fentanyl is the most common substance found in all overdose deaths.

Melissa Moore, director of civil systems reform for the Drug Policy Alliance, said its presence in so many illicit drug batches is a further reason for what she calls a "people-first" approach to addiction.

"We need a lot more shifting away from criminalization, and from tactics from the failed drug war that have really been ineffective," Moore asserted. "And a move to person-centered, health-centered policies."

In the meantime, New York City has taken drastic action to prevent overdoses by opening the nation's first publicly recognized safe consumption sites in Upper Manhattan.

The move has been controversial. At the Overdose Prevention Centers, people can use drugs, receive medical care and have their supply inspected for fentanyl.

Research has shown the centers to effectively prevent lethal overdoses for decades in other countries. Moore believes the need is clear in all five boroughs.

"Because we know that's going to be the thing that will actually save lives, in this moment," Moore contended.

Any New Yorker seeking help with an addiction, for themselves or a loved one, can call 877-8-HOPE-NY.


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