New York experienced a significant rise in drug overdoses tied to opioid use during the COVID-19 pandemic, says a report released Tuesday by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

Last year, there were 5,841 fatal drug overdoses in New York, and 85% of those deaths involved opioids. In 2010, the state had 1,557 overdose deaths, with 69% due to the powerful pain-killing narcotics, according to the report.

Drug overdose deaths spiked initially in 2017 when the federal government declared an emergency. In New York, there were nearly 4,000 deaths that year before the numbers waned slightly the following two years before the spike started in 2020.

DiNapoli said he found the increases to be “alarming.”

The data shows our battle against drug overdose deaths is far from over,” he said. “State leaders must ensure an ongoing commitment of public resources and strategies, including new funding from legal settlements, and innovative, evidence-based solutions for the fight against this deadly epidemic to be effective.”

The report showed that deaths rose sharply across ethnic groups. Deaths among Black New Yorkers jumped by about 500% from 2010 to 2020, Hispanics had a four-fold increase, and fatalities among whites tripled.

The primary culprit for the spike in overdose deaths is synthetic opioids; examples are fentanyl and tramadol. In 2010, those drugs accounted for just 11% of the deaths in New York. Last year, they accounted for 78%. Most of those were due to illegally produced fentanyl, which drug makers use as an additive in other drugs to create a cheap but very powerful – and sometimes lethal – high.

State Senate Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Chairman Pete Harckham, D-South Salem, said the data proves the state needs “an all-out effort” to tackle the drug crisis.

“That means giving proper resources and support to stakeholders and those on the front lines of substance use disorder treatment, recovery, overdose prevention and harm reduction, so we can work together and save the lives of our loved ones and neighbors,” he said.

Dutchess County reported the highest overdose rate, per capita, among counties where that data is available. More than 43 people per 100,000 died in the county located halfway between New York City and Albany.

Nationally, the U.S. average of 32.7 fatal overdoses per 100,000 people was slightly higher than the state’s 29.5 per 100,000. However, New York had a marginally higher rate of opioid-related deaths, at 25.2 per 100,000, compared to the national rate of 24.4.

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