The number of suspected drug overdoses since mid-March increased by 18 percent nationally, according to the Association of Medical Colleges.
But data on the exact number of drug overdoses on a statewide level here in New York is lacking.
In fact, the State Health Department has not reported the number of drug overdoses statewide since June 2019, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal stated during a legislative hearing.
“And why is that?” Assemblywoman Rosenthal questioned. “It’s because the New York State Department of Health has not reported them despite being required to do so by law since January 2020.”
Despite the lack of statewide data, counties are reporting their own statistics.
For example, Rensselaer County is reporting a 41 percent increase in overdose deaths compared to last year and in Erie County, the number of overdose deaths increased by 77 percent compared to 2019.
John Coppola, executive director of the New York Association of Addiction Services, said that the state needs to pay just as much attention to overdose deaths as it does to coronavirus deaths.
“We’re in the middle of a double pandemic of addiction and COVID,” Coppola explained. “It’s extraordinarily unacceptable that we do not have a system that can tell us today, how many overdoses we had last week, last month, two months ago, six months ago, maybe even a year ago.”
Groups pointed to the rise in unemployment, treatment, and support center closures during the pandemic, as some of the reasons for these spikes in overdoses.
While some of these services are starting back up again, groups said their main concern now is how to deal with impending funding cuts from the state.
The state is calling it a “withhold” for now, until federal aid arrives, but that could be too late for many jobs and services.
“It’s a cut,” Coppola emphasized. “Programs do not have the same level of funds that they had before. They’re having to make adjustments.”
According to state lawmakers, they invited the state Health Department to testify at this hearing, but officials turned down their request.
When asked, a spokesperson for the state Health Department sent a statement saying "while scheduling conflicts did not permit for the Department of Health to attend today's hearing, the administration was well-represented by the Commissioner of the Office of Addiction Services and Supports. And as always, the DOH is always available to answer legislative inquiries. The April and July quarterly reports are currently being finalized for release, while the Department of Health continues its unprecedented statewide response to the COVID-19 global pandemic.”
The commissioner of the Office of Addiction Services and Supports, Arlene Gonzalez-Sanchez, also could not answer questions from lawmakers during the hearing, on how many drug overdoes occurred on a statewide level.