Preliminary data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 2,500 people in New York City died from overdoses in 2021, up from 2,143 overdose deaths in 2020. The uptick comes as advocates push for Albany to authorize the use of Overdose Prevention Centers statewide, something the city did in 2021.
Deaths from drug overdoses in New York City rose by 17 percent in 2021 compared to the year prior, according to preliminary estimates published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Wednesday—mirroring a nationwide uptick in drug fatalities driven by opioids.
More than 2,500 people were killed in the city last year by overdoses, according to CDC predictions, up from 2,143 in December 2020. Outside of the five boroughs, another 3,200 New Yorkers died by overdose in 2021, up nearly 7 percent from the year before, bringing the predicted statewide total to more than 5,700 fatalities, according to the CDC’s estimates.* (The counts are “predicted cases” adjusted to account for incomplete reporting, according to the CDC; the number of “reported” overdoses deaths in the city last year was 2,291. The numbers are also “provisional,” the CDC notes, meaning they are subject to change).
Across the country, overdose deaths surpassed 107,000 in 2021, the data shows, a grim new record and an increase of more than 14 percent compared to 2020. The majority of cases both nationally at at the local level were related to opioids: In New York City, an estimated 1,909 fatalities—more than 75 percent of total deaths—involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl, the data shows.
The uptick comes as local advocates continue to push for New York State to follow the city’s lead in authorizing the use of Overdose Prevention Centers (OPCs)—medical facilities where people can use drugs under supervision, a harm-reduction model that supporters say helps prevent overdose deaths.
New York City under Mayor Bill de Blasio opened two OPCs, the very first in the country, in Washington Heights and East Harlem last year, an effort city officials have heralded as life-saving. As of May 1, staff at the two sites intervened to prevent more than 280 overdoses, according to OnPointNYC, the organization that runs the sites.
Supporters of the model are calling for lawmakers in Albany to pass the Safer Consumption Services Act, which would allow for such centers—sometimes called Safe Injection Sites—to operate across the rest of New York. Advocates say former Gov. Andrew Cuomo had promised stakeholders he would launch five state-authorized OPCs back when he was campaigning for re-election in 2018, but never actually delivered on the pledge.
The Safer Consumption bill was approved by the State Assembly’s Health Committee on Tuesday, but there are just a few weeks left in the legislative session for lawmakers to get it over the finish line and passed into law.
“We applaud the members of the Assembly Health Committee for ensuring that this life saving bill is one step closer to passing their house. Now, we need our electeds in the Senate to do the same,” James Hill, a leader with the advocacy group VOCAL-NY, said in a statement Tuesday. “While Overdose Prevention Centers may not be necessary in all New York State districts, they are desperately needed in communities like mine in Buffalo.”
The state’s legislative session ends June 2.
*Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that the overdose data the CDC lists for New York does not include the New York City numbers, but accounts for those that took place outside the city.