March Vs. Local Opioid Overdose Deaths


“Not one more!” echoed throughout the streets of midtown Manhattan on Thursday, where scores of marchers commemorated International Overdose Awareness Day to draw attention to the growing problem of death by opioid and other forms of drug addiction.

Accompanied by music from the Demolition Brass Band, the march began at West 27th Street and continued to its final stop at the morgue at Bellevue Hospital, where many paid their respects.

“I am here in solidarity with many folks who have lost loved ones,” said New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera, Democat of the Bronx,

Affiliated with the Harm Reduction Coalition, a nonprofit organization that provides resources and basic human health care for drug users who come from low-income communities, a number of organizations came together that day, urging the state to install more public health centers, public housings, safe injection facilities (SIF), and stop criminalizing and stigmatizing drug abusers,  instead focusing  on education and treatment.

“Why shouldn’t their lives be safe?” said Levele Pointer, a spokesperson for Harm Reduction and Vocal- New York. The organization  seeks to treat drug users and those with HIV/AIDs virus with counseling,  sterilized syringes, and other aids.

Persons with mental illness, PTSD and victims of domestic violence and rape are more likely to use opiates such as oxycodone, Pointer said.

The New York City Health Department issued a data report stating that 1,374 local drug overdose deaths were confirmed in 2016, a 46 percent increase from 2015, with the Bronx having the highest rates.

“People who use drugs are amongst the most talented,” said Robert Suarez of Vocal- New York. “To lose one, you lose a comedian. To lose one, you lose an artist. To lose one, you lose the arts and theater.”

Now with the more recent fentanyl-laced heroin, drug users are at risk of overdosing at even higher rates. “Dealers are now mixing fentanyl with heroin,” Pointer explained, “which ups it ten times.”

However, there are ways to prevent  overdoses. Suarez suggested using narcan kits—or naloxone. “The medicine has no other purpose but to reverse an overdose,” Suarez said. “It has no negative effects.”

In fact, Liam Gibson of Boom! Health, recommended that families, including children, know how to use a kit in an emergency. “Having a kit and not knowing how to use it is a big problem,” Gibson said.

Organizers also advised that drug users be given clean syringes to avoid transmitting blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDs.

Mike Bailey of the Washington Heights Corner Project marched in honor of three friends who died of drug overdoses.“The disease rates are cut down” with clean needles, he said.

Handing out clean syringes might upset opponents of drug use. But Bailey said it helped “keep the person alive,” guide them, and strategize toward sobriety. Jones added that his  group does “not condemn or endorse drug use,” but creates a “safe haven” for those in need

Black, Latino, and other minority groups such as the LGBTQ folk make up the demographics in most of these low-income communities, according to Director of Policy of GMHC, Cecilia Gentili, said, which resulted in some believing that the “drug war” was also a race and social issue.

 Senator Rivera said that the drug epidemic has afflicted many low-income neighborhoods for years, but has recently made headlines when “white communities were impacted.”

Recovering heroin addict,Marilyn Reyes, said that her native Bronx was infested with drugs, and the city did little about it until it reached white neighborhoods.

“Now they want to make changes, ” said Reyes who lost many friends and neighbors to drug overdoses, some who helped her when she was homeless and overcoming her own addiction. Reyes pounded her chest and promised her community that she would continue her mission until the crisis.