Overdose deaths in Brooklyn dropped by almost a quarter last year, but the borough continues to suffer from more drug-related fatalities than any other aside from the Bronx, according to new government figures.
A report by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows a drop in Kings County overdose deaths from 355 in 2017 to 273 in 2018, or 82 less fatalities year over year.
The Bronx maintained its tragic distinction as the deadliest borough for overdoses, with 391 fatalities, while Manhattan (267), Queens (215), and Staten Island (114) followed Brooklyn as the third, fourth, and least deadly respectively.
Aside from Brooklyn, only Queens saw a reduction in overdose deaths, with 55 less people dying last year compared to 2017.
Both cocaine and the highly-potent synthetic opioid fentanyl — which is 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin — were involved in the majority of overdose deaths, according to the Health Department.
The improvement in Kings County follows the launch of progressive new policies both in Brooklyn and citywide, including the debut of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $60 million HealthNYC initiative in March 2017, which saw officials distribute the lifesaving overdose drug Naloxone, provide increased funding to 14 needle exchange programs, and offer educational programming to prevent overdoses.
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez piloted his Brooklyn Clear program — which offers suspects cuffed on narcotics possession charges the chance to avoid prosecution if they complete a drug counseling program — in southern Brooklyn neighborhoods in February 2018, before expanding it boroughwide in September.
Since then, Gonzalez’s office has accepted 410 participants, of whom 380 completed the program, according to spokesman Oren Yaniv.
Gonzalez offers the program to suspects arrested with any narcotic substance, not just opiates, according to Yaniv, who noted their office recovered crack cocaine in more than half of cases, compared to just 25 percent with opioids.
But advocates claim more can be done to protect Brooklyn drug users, saying Governor Cuomo must authorize de Blasio’s plan to open the nation’s first supervised drug injection facility in Boerum Hill if he wants to see overdose numbers continue to fall.
“There are some improvements in numbers, but the state is now a big barrier and Governor Cuomo is now a big barrier to saving more lives,” said Reed Vreeland of the harm reduction advocacy group Housing Works.
Vreeland went on to compare Brooklyn’s 273 deaths to Portugal, a country with twice the population of Kings County, but which decriminalized all drugs in 2001, and had only 54 overdose deaths in 2015, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. “When we get policy right, the outcomes follow,” he said.