Health Department Launches Citywide Fentanyl Awareness Campaign

The campaign, which is part of HealingNYC, offers judgement-free strategies for preventing fatal overdose to New Yorkers who use drugs

Fentanyl was the most common drug involved in overdose deaths in 2017, found in 57% of overdose deaths; preliminary data show the trend continuing in 2018

Poster with text reading 'Prevent Opioid Overdose. Avoid Using Alone. If you do, have someone check on you.'

May 28, 2019 — The Health Department today announced the launch of a public education campaign that offers practical and life-saving advice to people who use drugs. Advice includes not using alone and avoiding mixing drugs. The $730,000 campaign also warns people about the presence of fentanyl — a short-acting opioid 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin — in the drug supply. Fentanyl has been found in heroin, powder cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, and ketamine, as well as in pills sold as opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines. Overdose deaths remain at epidemic levels in New York City, with the number of deaths increasing for seven consecutive years. In 2017, fentanyl was the most common drug involved in overdose deaths in New York City, identified in 57% of these deaths. Preliminary data show the trend continuing in 2018.

“Fentanyl is in the illegal drug supply, and it is driving the overdose epidemic in New York City,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “People who use drugs should know there are ways to reduce their risk of overdose. If you use drugs, don’t use them by yourself; if you overdose, someone else will need to call 911. This information can save lives.”

The campaign addresses New Yorkers who use drugs and offers drug education:

  • Fentanyl is an opioid that can’t be detected by sight, taste, or smell when mixed into other drugs.
  • Anyone using heroin, cocaine or crack, even occasionally, may be at risk of fentanyl-involved overdose.
  • Carry naloxone. Naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose.
  • Avoid mixing drugs. Mixing opioids with alcohol and Xanax, Valium and Klonopin increases the risk of overdose.
  • Avoid using alone. If you do, have someone check on you.

The campaign will run citywide on subways, bus shelters, billboards, LinkNYC kiosks, online in local businesses and the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Coverage will also be targeted to the neighborhoods in each borough with the highest rates of overdose death. This fentanyl awareness and overdose prevention campaign follows the Health Department’s “Living Proof” and “I Saved a Life” campaigns, which promoted the treatment of opioid addiction with methadone or buprenorphine and raised awareness of naloxone. The campaign is part of HealingNYC, the City’s comprehensive strategy to address the opioid epidemic and save as many as 400 lives by 2022.

“Fentanyl is a synthetic killer far more lethal than any strain of heroin found on city streets. The spike in overdose deaths caused by the use of fentanyl and the abuse of other opioids once again highlights the importance of education, prevention, and harm reduction strategies to encourage drug users to try to stay safe, and ultimately to seek substance abuse treatment, all without fear of legal repercussions,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, Chair of the Assembly Health Committee.

“While we are doing everything we can to get Fentanyl off our streets, we also need to give every person who uses this powerful drug, whether inadvertently or not, a chance to survive its deadly consequences,” said City Council Health Committee Chair Mark Levine. “Every New Yorker should know that if you use drugs, there are things you can do to mitigate the chances of a deadly overdose. We need to be open and honest about drug use in New Your City and make the use of drugs, even if illegal, as safe as possible. This program will save lives.”

“At our syringe exchange program in Brooklyn we know that education and supportive services are what keep people who use drugs safe,” said Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director, VOCAL-NY. “We're glad to see the City taking proactive steps to educate the public about the dangers of fentanyl, while also promoting strategies to reduce harm and mitigate risk. These are the important public health strategies we need to keep our communities safe and turn the tide on this deadly and unnecessary overdose crisis.”

“In a post-fentanyl environment, people who use drugs are at more risk for fatal overdose than ever before. This campaign offers practical, life-saving information that gives people the tools they need to keep themselves out of harm’s way,” said Monique Tula, Executive Director, Harm Reduction Coalition.

“This public awareness campaign is very important for New York Harm Reduction Educators and particularly for our participants,” said Junior Bazile, Director Of Programs for New York Harm Reduction Educators. “We have been packing fentanyl testing kits to distribute to participants for several months, and we have seen considerable increase in the uptake of those testing kits. Our participants are educated on the potency of fentanyl and the danger it represents. Because of their understanding of the issue, they continue coming back to our sites to get more fentanyl testing kits in order to ensure that they use more safely. All across New York City, the harm reduction agencies need to continue educating people who use drugs on fentanyl and make sure that the testing kits are available to them whenever they need them.”

Drug overdose death remains at epidemic levels in New York City, where someone dies of a drug overdose every six hours. In 2017, there were 1,487 confirmed overdose deaths (PDF), and fentanyl was the most common drug, involved in 57 percent of deaths. From January to September 2018, there were 1,055 confirmed overdose deaths (PDF).

City strategies to curb overdose deaths, as outlined in HealingNYC, include naloxone distribution, educational activities and social supports for youth, educating health professionals about the risks of prescription opioid painkillers and best practices for judicious prescribing, expand crisis intervention services for nonfatal overdose and myriad other efforts.

Poster with text reading 'Fentanyl is an opioid that might be mixed into heroin, cocaine and crack.'

Opioid overdose deaths are preventable, and naloxone is available to all New Yorkers who need it. All major chain pharmacies (Walgreens, Duane Reade, Rite Aid and CVS) in New York City now offer naloxone, and nearly 500 independent pharmacies citywide have agreed to dispense the medication without a patient-specific prescription. In addition to access through pharmacies citywide, naloxone is available for free from registered Opioid Overdose Prevention programs. Additionally, New York State will cover naloxone co-payments of up to $40 (PDF). The Health Department also offers regular naloxone trainings at its main office in Queens and Tremont Neighborhood Action Center in the Bronx. Trainings teach New Yorkers to recognize the signs of an overdose and respond by calling 911 and administering naloxone. The trainings are free, and all participants are offered a free naloxone kit.

Treatment for opioid use disorder is available in New York City. Treatment with buprenorphine or methadone is highly effective and can reduce the risk of overdose and death. Individuals seeking support or treatment for substance use issues for themselves or their loved ones can contact NYC Well by calling 1-888-NYC-WELL, texting “WELL” to 65173 or going to Free, confidential support is available at any hour of the day in over 200 languages.

If you witness an overdose, call 911 immediately.



MEDIA CONTACT: Patrick Gallahue / Stephanie Buhle: (347) 396-4177