Health

Community groups sound the alarm about opioids

Carmen Rios-Nuñez

A speaker and fellow panelists alert attendees to the growing problem of opioid abuse in the South Bronx.

The city’s alarming increase in opioid abuse is not only an adult problem, say South Bronx youth organizers who want to alert local parents to the issue.

About 40 residents gathered in the auditorium of Entrada Academy on Fox Street in late May for a town hall meeting to discuss ways to prevent the epidemic from spreading, and treatment options. They were joined by representatives from Forward South Bronx Coalition, whose member organizations like The Sports Foundation Inc., Samaritan Daytop Village and Brothers In Recovery came to address underage drinking and drug abuse.

Earlier in May, The Sports Foundation tasked students at Holcombe L. Rucker School of Community Research and Entrada Academy to create a public service announcement to alert their peers to the dangers of marijuana as a “gateway” drug for more dangerous substances, and to warn them about illegal substances and alcohol. The result was a three-part, thirteen-minute video featuring students discussing the negative effects of marijuana use.

Opioids, a class of drugs that includes illegal substances like heroin, as well as prescription drugs like fentanyl and oxycodone, have become a widespread concern both citywide and nationally, as overdoses have become the leading cause of accidental death around the country and in New York City.

One elected official said the problem is painfully familiar locally.

“Now that opioid addiction, prescription drugs and heroin addiction have reached communities that don’t look like us, all of a sudden the state, everybody – the governor, the mayor, the president – everybody’s talking about opioid addiction,” Assembly Member Marcos Crespo told the gathering. But “in our neighborhoods, it wasn’t a health crisis when we had addiction. It was always understood as a criminal justice crisis, and it led to the over-incarceration of people of color.”

According to a Department of Health press release, half of the city’s overdose deaths during the last six months of 2016 involved the use of fentanyl. Hunts Point/Mott Haven’s rate of 12 unintentional deaths per 100,000 residents by opioid overdose was the most in the city in 2011-2012. That number shot up to 18.6 deaths by overdose per 100,000 in 2013-24, according to a 2015 New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene epi data brief.

The mayor has launched a new initiative to combat opioid abuse, promising to invest $38 million annually to reduce related deaths by 35 percent. But the best way to prevent drug abuse from expanding in the South Bronx, panelists said, is to get the word out, as well as for adults to pay more attention to alienated young people.

Segundo Lopez, who directs the Sports Foundation’s team center said that drug prevention is a goal behind all of the organization’s free programs, which include student counseling, homework assistance, dance, computer lab and creative writing. The organization recently expanded to a new location at 2580 Third Avenue.

One parent with a child in Entrada Academy, Ambiorix Minalla, said parents have to be open with their children in talking about drug abuse.

“It’s one of the topics that parents fear the most because a lot of children fall into the regrettable misfortune that is drugs,” said Minalla.

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