Opioids’ devastating impact on the residents of Long Island



Heroin had been the opioid of choice for decades but now that spot has been taken by the far more dangerous Fentanyl.

Brittany Polevikov and August Zeidman

States and communities across the nation have been suffering for years now with the issues of opioid addiction and overdoses.  New York is no different, and Long Island specifically has suffered greatly at the hands of these drugs.  Both prescription and street varieties of morphine-derived drugs have proven deadly for thousands statewide and the CDC continues to struggle with containing the issue.

New York State has taken extensive steps to combat opioid abuse, such as enacting restrictions on prescription substances and establishing educational programs to help healthcare providers use safe prescribing practices.  However, it is not enough to target opioid addition on a state level.  The most effective way to call attention to this important issue is to find the source of local outbreaks on Long Island.

As of  2014, the age-adjusted opioid-related death rate in Suffolk County was 12.6 per 100,000, compared to the New York State average of 7.2 per 100,000 according to Long Island Business News.  To effectively target and prevent these elevated death rates, a drug by the name of Naxalone must be used.  This drug is used to counteract the effects of an overdose and by making it more available to first responders many lives have been saved.  New York has made some of the best progress in the country in making Naxalone readily available. 

This is not to say that it is not an issue.  Here on Long Island, there were over 600 fatal opioid overdoses between Nassau and Suffolk County.  Suffolk County is among the hardest hit in the state with almost 400 deaths there last year.  The most common killers have proved to be heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid which has become the nation’s leading drug killer over the past decade.  Nationwide opioid overdoses killed more than 42,000 people in 2016. 

Some of the most prominent victims of opioid overdoses are the musicians Prince and Tom Petty, who both died following abuse of prescribed drugs.  Prince died after an accidental overdose of pain medication, and Petty suffered a heart attack linked to the opioids he had been taking. 

These drugs work in a unique way, as they travel through the bloodstream into the brain where they bind to special receptors in order to produce feelings of euphoria and relaxation.  Fentanyl was developed specifically with the characteristic of being extremely fast-acting.  A high from Fentanyl can come and go within an hour and it only takes an overdose of micrograms to push casual use into the realm of being a deadly risk. 

This, combined with the fact that Fentanyl is about 50 times stronger than heroin, result in a cycle where withdrawal symptoms are more pronounced, enticing users to return to the drug multiple times a day and thereby feeding their dependence. 

Drug overdoses accounted for 32% of deaths of men between 15 and 44 in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.  The vast majority of these were as a result of opioid abuse, and of that, the main culprit is Fentanyl. 

Long Island’s opioid epidemic can be pinpointed to one major factor: the overprescription of drugs.  This is a sentiment voiced by many prominent doctors in the area.

“There’s more money on Long Island. The availability of these drugs is higher…We have a population willing to take these drugs and a healthcare system that’s been willing to overprescribe these drugs,” said Dr. Jay Enden of Northwell Health.

 However, since drug legislation is something which is created on the state level, the needs of individual counties may be overshadowed by the needs of the majority of New York.  In this case, Nassau and Suffolk county both need legislation to address overprescription of opioids, but the rest of the state demands focus on rehabilitation programs and community centers.  Although paying special attention to a small region of the state may seem unnecessary or even tedious, this legislation could be a matter of life or death for those impacted by substance abuse on Long Island.