A record number of New Yorkers are succumbing to overdose deaths, including those that involve opioids. It's a battle that's only gotten worse, says state Sen. Peter Harckham, during the pandemic.
The rise in overdose deaths in New York and around the country is leading state lawmakers to take new steps to address the problem.
"The number of New Yorkers and Americans who are dying of fentanyl overdoses and now with xylazine is horrific," Harckham said.
And now a new challenge is emerging: Xylazine. Used as a sedative for animals, the drug has been mixed with other street drugs like cocaine, with deadly results.
The major and alarming challenge for public health officials with xylazine is counteracting agents like narcan, used to revive a person experiencing an overdose, is not nearly as effective.
"Harm reduction is vital," Harckham said. "We’ve got to end the stigma. And we’ve got to meet people where they are in order to save their lives and that’s making test strips more accessible."
Harckham, along with state Assemblyman John McDonald, are calling for legislation that would allow pharmacists to dispense kits that enables people to test drugs for fentanyl and xylazine.
"We want to make sure that individuals that if they choose to use an illegal substance, to be mindful with the fact that it could be contaminated, whether it’s with fentanyl or xylazine," McDonald said.
McDonald, a pharmacist himself, said pharmacies can key and easy points of entry for the health care system.
"Pharmacists are probably the most accessible health care professionals outside of an emergency room," McDonald said. "And quite frankly, emergency rooms have enough going on already."
The measure has drawn Republican support, including from Assemblyman Joe Angelino. He's worried about about the normalization of drug use, but ensuring people are not killed is far more important.
"We’re saving lives, that’s the bottom line," he said.
Soaring opioid-related deaths have led lawmakers and state officials to offer a variety of measures meant to address it.
"Fentanyl is coming across in such quantities," Angelino said. "It’s impacted every community -- big, small and in-between."