Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid commonly used in surgery, has surpassed heroin as the leading cause of overdose-related deaths on Long Island.
At least 220 people have died of fentanyl overdoses on Long Island in 2016 so far, the Times reports. "Fentanyl has surpassed heroin as the most commonly detected drug in fatal opioid overdoses," Dr. Michael Caplan, medical examiner of both Nassau and Suffolk counties, told the Times in a statement.
Fentanyl is much cheaper and easier to acquire than heroin, and can be 100 times more powerful than morphine. Prescription fentanyl is commonly used to treat cancer pain or as an anesthetic for surgery and is commonly prescribed in the form of patches and lozenges—but it can be fatal if touched or inhaled. Some NYPD officers and other NYC emergency responders have begun carrying naloxone, a drug used to save dying opioid users.
Drug users seek out fentanyl because it provides a more intense high, or because of the thrill of using something so risky, the Times reports—in other cases, drug dealers lace heroin or prescription pain pills like oxycodone and hydrocodone with fentanyl to cut costs.
In New York City, more than 1,000 people are expected to die from drug overdoses in 2016, which would make this year the first recorded four-digit death total in city history. Nationwide, fentanyl-related deaths doubled between 2013 and 2014.
This March, an NYPD raid turned up two kilos of fentanyl and half a kilo of fentanyl-laced heroin, as well as nine kilos of cocaine, 12 pounds of cutting chemicals, $260,000 in cash, seven automobiles, 889 grams of crack, and 15 guns. Bronx prosecutors indicted 84 people on narcotics trafficking, murder, attempted murder, and weapons possession charges related to the raids. In April, Mayor de Blasio announced that the city would be doubling the number of naloxone kits distributed by the health department from 7,000 to 14,000 in addition to training physicians to use buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid addiction.
Nonetheless, nearly half of all unintentional drug overdoses in NYC since July—an estimated 294 deaths—have involved fentanyl, according to statistics from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Earlier this month, the Health Department launched a citywide "Save a Life, Carry Naloxone" campaign focused on reducing overdose deaths.