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Overdoses -- what’s behind the epidemic?

Naloxone is a rescue dosage for for opiod

Naloxone is a rescue dosage for for opiod users who overdose. Credit: Mayoral Photo Office / Edwin J. Torres

Scaring addicts rarely works.

You can’t frighten them into treatment, or get them to stop using by warning them that there’s a killer batch out there.

We’ve talked to several and the thinking makes complete sense, but only to an addict.

“When you hear about people OD-ing, everyone wants to know where they got the stuff from because you know it has to be good,” said one 22-year-old who has been in recovery for nearly six months.

“That’s how addicts think,” Patrick told the Advance. “That’s what I would do.”

With the most recent surge of seven over a weekend, with two fatalities, District Attorney Michael McMahon who declared on Twitter that “we are working hard every day to combat the drug epidemic,” urged a change in direction for those faced with addiction.

“If you or someone you love is battling addiction, please urge them to get help, and visit for more information about addiction treatment services.”

And there’s no question that’s what should be happening, and we hope that, to some extent, it is.

But given the persistent OD rate on Staten Island, it appears we are still a long way from making any significant headway.

According to the district attorney’s office, there have been at least 83 overdose deaths so far this year, and there have been 175 saves.

Just imagine how many more deaths there would be if the OD-reversal medication naloxone was not as readily available as it is.


That said, what are the conditions on the street that are fueling this relentless crisis?

“The heroin is really pure and now even the good stuff is being cut with fentanyl,” another recovering addict told us. “By the time I was ready to throw in the towel, I was using pure fentanyl. I’m lucky I’m still alive.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s 50 or more times stronger than morphine. There are versions of the drug being produced overseas and flooding the market. Slight changes in the chemical makeup of the substance — different analogs — stump law enforcement because the version obtained in a bust sometimes is not on the official list of illegal drugs.

For that reason, Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced an effort to target producers and dealers of the deadly substance. It’s an important step and will empower law enforcement.

Legislation is being introduced that would add 11 versions of fentanyl to the state’s controlled substances schedule.

“When we make fentanyl illegal, we put it in the law these chemicals in this combination equals fentanyl and it’s illegal. What the manufacturers do is they go back to the lab, they add a chemical and now it’s different than the legal definition so now it’s no longer an illegal substance,” Cuomo stated.

“It’s a game of whack-a-mole,” he said.

By adding the new versions of fentanyl to the state’s controlled drug list as a Schedule I, it makes the manufacturing of any of them a felony, punishable by up to 20 years.

Any new compounds that arise in the future will automatically be added to the controlled list, allowing the authorities to stay ahead of the dealers.

While beefed up law enforcement is a welcome move, it has little overall impact on the addiction rate and the overdoses that go with it.

If a dealer gets busted, addicts just find another.


So how did the two we spoke with end up clean and sober after years of life-threatening addiction?

For one, there was little choice.

“My family said get help or get out. And if you don’t we’re calling the cops,” Patrick said.

After years of the lying, conniving and theft that addicts expose their “loved ones” to, they had enough.

And he had enough too.

“It wasn’t even about getting high anymore,” he said. “I had to get what I needed every day just not to be sick.”

“The party was over a long time ago. It was like a full-time job. So when I finally got caught stealing from my younger sister, they gave me nowhere to turn.”

So instead of wandering the streets, he went to a detox in Manhattan (there were no available beds on Staten Island) and then to a three-month treatment program.

He’s now working part-time, attending out-patient and 12-step meetings.

“It’s like I have a whole new life,” he said. “A second chance.”

It’s a second chance that not everyone gets.

Even those who are in the “saves” category frequently return to active addiction.

The second addict we spoke with recently celebrated a year clean last month, but it took four near-death overdoses before she agreed to seek treatment.

“Like most addicts, I figured I was invincible. Even the ODs didn’t scare me,” she said.

“I remember waking up from one and being mad that the drugs were out of my system and I didn’t have anything left,” she recalled. “I went out and got more as soon as I could. Crazy, right?”


But the last time, while in an E.R. bed, a friend and someone she used to get high with came to visit.

“I wondered what happened to her,” Stephanie said. “I had’t seen her in a long time and we used to hang out with the same gang.”

Stephanie’s friend had gone to long-term treatment more than two years ago and was finally back with her family when she heard about her friend’s overdose.

“She told me I could do what I wanted when I was released, but said she didn’t want to go to my funeral,” Stephanie said.

Those words clicked and Stephanie now is “done with drugs.”

“Being detoxed was not as bad as I thought it would be ... they used new medication,” she said. “And now I just take it a day at a time and help others the way I was helped.”

While we periodically hear about waves of overdoses, major drug busts and appeals like that of the D.A. to seek help, in the end it’s up to each individual addict.

Had enough?

If you have, there’s plenty of help available.

If you haven’t, you could very well be among the next fatality statistics.

Which will it be?