News Articles

The Opioid Crisis is Evolving, and so is Catholic Charities

drug abuse

By Jim Sliney Jr.

In 2017, there were a record 1,487 fatal overdoses in New York; the overdose rate in the South Bronx was higher than any place in the country except for West Virginia. – NYTimes

The 1-year old boy died from acute exposure to fentanyl and heroin, among other drugs, according to the New York City office of the chief medical examiner. The death was ruled a homicide. - CNN

In 2017, there were 363 deaths in the Bronx attributed to overdose. The highest of all the boroughs. – nyc.gov

Police Department created these dedicated overdose squads in each borough. In 2018, the Bronx squad responded to more than 600 incidents, about a third of them fatal. - NYTimes

New York is having trouble with opioids.

OPIOIDS ARE A DANGEROUS TOOL, BUT STILL A TOOL

Before we go any further, I think it’s important to make a distinction here:

Opioids are not inherently bad. They provide relief to patients who live in chronic pain resulting from any number of different medical conditions (cancer, arthritis, fibromyalgia, etc.).  Opioids play a valid role in managing chronic pain, but it cannot be denied that we did not always know or, were not always told the truth about the dangers of opioids - the danger of addiction and all that entails. It is conflicting; opioids give relief but also do harm.

Catholic Charities of New York, its agencies, and affiliates help people get access to treatment programs, peer support, clinical and tele-health services, and even mobile treatment services. But these programs need to grow, because, despite the number of written opioid-prescriptions being in decline, the overdose rate is rising.

RESPONDING TO CHANGES IN THE LANDSCAPE

Overdoses rise despite reductions in prescribing because street opioids (the illegal stuff) are becoming much easier to get than prescribed opioids (the legal stuff). “As it stands today,” says the Pharmacy Times, “illicit opioids, specifically illicit fentanyl/fentanyl analogs, top the charts in opioid-related deaths. Between 2015 and 2016, heroin and illicit fentanyl contributed to 35,000 opioid-related deaths, and prescription drugs accounted for fewer than 15,000.”

Catholic Charities works with several very effective addiction service agencies throughout the Archdiocese of New York:

Astor Services for Children and Families in Rhinebeck, NY

Catholic Charities Community Services of Orange, Sullivan & Ulster in Goshen, NY

Covenant House in New York City

Create, Inc. in New York City

New Hope Manor in Barryville, NY

St. Francis Counseling Center in New York City

Catholic Charities of Staten Island in Staten Island

Catholic Charities Newburgh Prevention Services in Newburgh, NY

Each of these agencies has its own story, workers, volunteers, and thought leaders, all striving to meet the needs in their regions.

OPIOIDS MOVE – CATHOLIC CHARITIES MOVES

Concentrations of illicit-opioid-use, move. In a survey that covered 2009-2013 overdose deaths (see the New York Times image below), the Bronx reported 216 deaths compared to King’s county’s 151 – a 17% difference in the Bronx. But in 2017 alone, there were 363 overdose deaths in the Bronx and 359 in King’s County – a much higher rate but less than a 1% difference between boroughs. The media, the drug dealers, economic disparities – whatever the cause, the crisis is evolving, and not for the better.

A map kept by the Bronx Narcotics unit tracks overdoses in the borough.
A map kept by the Bronx Narcotics unit tracks overdoses in The Bronx. 
Image: The New York Times

To reach into more communities, Catholic Charities of New York has sponsored Naloxone-administration training. Naloxone is the drug given in the event of an opioid overdose, and Catholic Charities has trained 1500 people in its proper use. If you train people in the use of Naloxone, those people can be out where agencies cannot always be.

But these programs need to grow. Despite the reduction in written opioid-prescriptions, the overdose rate is rising. We don’t know what will happen next, but we do know that Catholic Charities will always strive to bring compassionate services to our neighbors in need.