New York

Authorities Take to Social Media to Combat ‘Cancer' of Fentanyl Addiction

What to Know

  • Overdose deaths hit an all-time high in New York's five boroughs in 2016
  • Staten Island and the Bronx have been hit especially hard, but opioids are having an impact on families across the city
  • On Thursday, Gov. Cuomo said new legislation would make 11 fentanyl derivatives Schedule 1 drugs

Fentanyl abuse has been most prevalent on Staten Island in the South Bronx, but it’s affecting families in every corner of the city, with the number of overdoses increasing rapidly over the past couple of years, officials say.

Now authorities have started an awareness campaign to warn New Yorkers about the dangers of the powerful drug, which has left families picking up the pieces of their loved ones battling addiction. 

“You’re always under the fear that she’s not going to be there anymore,” Great Kills resident Katie Woods said.

Woods’ daughter, Kayla, was introduced to opioids after a devastating car accident left her battered and in pain.

“She went through 13 surgeries in the course of a year-and-a-half to two years,” Woods said. “She was 17 and 18 years old.”

Woods said that when the surgeries and painkillers were done, her daughter turned to street drugs, specifically heroin that was laced with the dangerous opioid fentanyl.

The combo nearly killed Kayla.

“My mom, her grandmother, actually found her, which is really terrible,” Woods said. “She was really gone.”

Bridget Brennan, the city's special narcotics prosecutor, knows it all too well.

“It’s being sold as heroin. It’s mixed into cocaine. It’s pressed into pills,” Brennan said. “It’s everywhere.”

Brennan believes people are unaware of fentanyl’s lethal nature. That’s why her office has started a new awareness campaign.

The campaign includes social media posts; one says: “Fentanyl kills more New Yorkers than guns.” Another shows an image of a small sugar packet and says enough fentanyl to cause 140 overdoses would fit inside it.

“The overdose deaths keep going up, and I want to see that turn around,” Brennan said.

In the first three months of this year, there were 344 overdose deaths in New York City — compared to 304 in the same time period last year. And they’re up drastically from 194 in the first quarter of 2015. The city Health Department attributes much of the rise to fentanyl.

“It’s sort of like a cancer in the family,” Woods said. “Addiction doesn’t just affect one person. It affects the entire family.”

After a long road of addiction, her daughter Kayla is now in rehab and 16 months sober. Woods said she has benefited from long-term recover centers and that she’d like to see more insurance policies cover them.

“Coming close and coming back, it’s really like a second lease on life,” Woods said.

On Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced new legislation that would make 11 derivatives of fentanyl a Schedule 1 drug in the state; it would also make it easier to add new compounds to the list in the future. The governor says it's necessary because dealers are often tweaking the chemistry of the drug to avoid harsher penalties. 

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