Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

In some cities, Fentanyl deaths have increased dramatically over the last year

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For months, the Biden administration has said drug overdose deaths are finally leveling off or even declining slightly. Well, now new data out of New York City and other parts of the U.S. undercut that hope. These numbers show dramatic increases in fatal drug deaths caused by fentanyl. NPR addiction correspondent Brian Mann is here to explain this latest information. Hey, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Let's start in New York City, where you are today. What's happening there?

MANN: Well, these latest numbers that are from 2022 are pretty grim. They show a 12% increase from the year before with more than 3,000 people dying from drugs in that year. That's a new record. The old normal for New York City until about 2011 was 500 to 600 drug deaths a year, which wasn't great. But now we've hit a number roughly five times higher. And what appears to be happening is fentanyl. It continues to displace other less deadly, less potent street drugs. And fentanyl is also being taken in really toxic cocktails with other drugs.

SHAPIRO: Who is the most vulnerable?

MANN: Well, this new report from New York City's Health Department shows, in fact, just how localized and kind of focused this public health crisis is. It's not happening equally across the city. First of all, men are four times more likely to die than women. Black New Yorkers are seeing huge increases in fatalities. And another heartbreaking detail in this report is that a lot of the deaths are happening among older people, with folks age 55 to 65 suffering the highest overdose rates.

SHAPIRO: And beyond New York, what do the numbers look like in other parts of the U.S.?

MANN: Well, the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the overdose crisis is grim - again, 111,000 deaths roughly every year. And the impact is really uneven. The latest preliminary data from the CDC shows some states like Oregon, Nevada and Washington are seeing big spikes in drug deaths, up more than 20%, even bigger than what we're seeing in New York City. Other states seeing 10% increases above levels that were already pretty ugly. Interestingly, there are states like Arkansas, Indiana and Louisiana reporting significantly fewer drug deaths right now. And frankly, the experts I've spoken to just haven't been able to explain these patterns. We don't know why those big disparities are happening.

SHAPIRO: So these numbers are drug deaths. But as you've explained, it's mostly fentanyl deaths. What is being done to keep fentanyl off the streets?

MANN: Yeah, the Biden administration has ramped up efforts to target Mexican drug cartels that are supplying this fentanyl. Today the White House announced new sanctions against the Sinaloa cartel. Some cities are trying to disrupt street drug markets where fentanyl is being sold directly to people with addiction. And this is in part a response to a lot of growing public concern. You know, along with the overdose deaths, we're seeing more public use of drugs right now. It's more visible, more disruptive. And that sparked community backlash. But I have to say most experts I talked to are skeptical that fentanyl trafficking can be slowed. It's a uniquely easy drug to make and smuggle. So keeping it off the streets in places like Portland and Las Vegas and New York City - you know, so far nobody's figured out how to do that.

SHAPIRO: So fentanyl is not likely to go away. What's being done to reduce the number of deaths from the drug?

MANN: Well, the Biden administration's rolled out a bunch of new policies to try to make addiction treatment more available. They've made naloxone available to buy over the counter. That's the nasal spray that reverses opioid overdoses. State and local governments are spending more money to try to make treatment available. But these efforts are running headlong into big problems like homelessness and social isolation, a more toxic street supply of drugs that's really hurting people. So what I'm hearing from experts is that this is a public health crisis, Ari, that's not going to be fixed anytime soon.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR addiction correspondent Brian Mann. Thank you.

MANN: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.