This post originally appeared at WeStandUp.org back in April; since the site folded, I’m reposting it here.
More than 115 Americans die every day as a result of opioid overdoses. But as is often the case, the attention paid to the opioid epidemic most often focuses on abuses of prescription pain medication by otherwise stable middle- or upper-class individuals. Less visible in this narrative are marginalized populations like the homeless, for whom opioid addiction is not a new phenomenon, but an ongoing crisis.
New York City is no exception. In 2016, overdose deaths — primarily from opioids — rose 46% from the previous year, prompting Mayor Bill De Blasio to increase spending to $36 million to address opioid addiction through the city’s Healing NYC program. The New York Times recently reported that city officials are cautiously optimistic about the program’s success, citing a “leveling off” in opioid-related deaths following a sharp increase in 2016.
This optimism is certainly well-founded. However, it overlooks data which suggests that opioid overdoses among the city’s homeless population are not falling. Quite the opposite, in fact: opioid overdoses among the homeless are rising at an alarming rate. The New York Daily News recently reported that there have been 81 opioid overdoses in the first four months of fiscal year 2018; compared to the same time period last year, when the shelter system reported just 12 overdoses, that represents a 575% increase.