New York state’s opioid crisis + local efforts

Find out more about the opioid crisis in New York state. Learn about the local initiatives to address and combat the state's opioid situation.

Ophelia team
New York state map and prescription bottle outline
Icon of shield with check mark inside
Fact checked by
Mena Soliman, NP

The opioid crisis has devastated communities across the United States. Every state has been affected in some way, but the impact of the crisis and the measures taken to address it vary from state to state. New York State presents an interesting case study in handling the opioid crisis in both major metropolitan centers as well as rural areas. In this article, we’ll dig deeper into the opioid crisis in New York and the local efforts toward fighting it. 

How the opioid crisis affects NY residents

When the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency in 2017, drug overdose deaths in New York started to fall for the first time in a decade. Unfortunately, fatal drug overdoses, specifically opioid-involved overdoses, spiked once again during the COVID-19 pandemic and hit new heights. Unemployment, isolation, and limited access to proper treatment during the pandemic exacerbated the existing opioid crisis. Opioid overdose deaths rose 38% nationally from 2019 to 2020 and grew even faster in New York. Between 2019 and 2021, the state experienced a 68% increase in opioid overdose deaths.

Fatal overdoses aren’t the only devastating effects of the opioid crisis for New York residents. The crisis affects residents’ quality of life, the economic opportunities in their communities, and their health and safety. Even those who don’t have direct experience with drugs still feel the effects of the opioid crisis rippling through their communities. 

Opioids in NYC

In 2022, more than 3,000 New York City residents died of overdoses. That’s approximately one overdose death every three hours. The majority of these overdose deaths involved fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Black and Latino New Yorkers were the most likely to experience fatal overdoses—Crotona-Tremont, Hunts Point-Mott Haven, and Highbridge in the South Bronx had the highest rates of overdose deaths. 

Contrary to common stereotypes, young people do not experience the highest rates of overdose. The age bracket with the highest overdose rates in NYC was adults between 55 and 64, and adults between 45 and 54 years old had the second-highest overdose rates. The opioid epidemic in New York City has not yet slowed down, but the city is taking action to fight the crisis. With the Care, Community, Action: A Mental Health Plan for New York City, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Mayor Eric Adams are hoping to bring overdose deaths down by 15% by 2025. 

Opioids upstate

People often associate illegal drug use and addiction concerns with urban areas, like New York City. But the truth is, the opioid crisis is not contained to cities. Rural communities and suburban areas have also been deeply affected by the crisis, in some cases suffering more extreme effects than New York City. For example, Sullivan County, which is about two hours northwest of NYC, has the highest opioid death rate per 100,000 residents in the state. Several counties in upstate and western New York also have higher opioid death rates than NYC. 

One of the biggest challenges in addressing the opioid crisis in upstate New York and other rural areas is limited access to treatment for opioid addiction. In many parts of the state, patients dealing with opioid use disorder (OUD) are far away from the nearest treatment centers or pharmacies that distribute medications for addiction treatment (MAT). It’s highly inconvenient or even impossible for many of these underserved patients to access the resources they need. 

Elected officials and professionals have put initiatives into place to try to curb the opioid epidemic and New York will hopefully benefit from them. Time will tell how effective these measures are exactly, but taking these initiatives is the first step toward tackling the opioid crisis. 

New York state rules for administering naloxone

Naloxone is a life-saving medicine approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that rapidly reduces opioid overdoses. It blocks the effect of opioids like heroin, fentanyl, and oxycodone in the brain for 30 to 90 minutes, providing time for other medical interventions as necessary. Narcan is the brand name for naloxone. 

Since 2006, naloxone has been legal in New York State for non-medical professionals to give naloxone to someone they suspect is suffering from an opioid overdose. You can get naloxone without a prescription from any participating pharmacy in New York State, whether you use opioids yourself or think you may witness someone else overdosing. Community programs throughout NYC offer naloxone for free, but NY State residents also have the option to purchase it with or without insurance. 

Anyone who receives naloxone training is legally allowed to carry and administer naloxone in NY State. If you need to administer naloxone to someone, you should also call 911 so they can receive further medical care. The New York State 911 Good Samaritan Law protects you if you’re calling to save someone’s life, so NY residents should not hesitate to call 911 in case of a suspected overdose, even if there are drugs present. 

First responders in NY State may also carry and administer naloxone in the case of a suspected opioid overdose. Administering naloxone as soon as possible is critical for someone experiencing an opioid overdose, so contact emergency services right away if you think you’re witnessing an overdose and don’t have naloxone available. 

Harm reduction facilities + programs

NY State has implemented several harm reduction measures to prevent overdoses and other threats to the community from the opioid crisis. 

Free test strips

In addition to offering free naloxone through participating pharmacies, NY State also provides free test strips to detect whether drugs are laced with additives, like fentanyl and xylazine. The Office of Addiction Services and Supports will send free naloxone and fentanyl test strips to valid New York State addresses for those who request them. These tests can be lifesaving. The majority of recent overdose deaths in New York involved fentanyl, and many people ingest it unknowingly when using other drugs. Detecting fentanyl with these test strips is essential to reducing exposure and tracking contaminated drug supplies back to their sources.

Overdose prevention centers

New York City became the home of the first overdose prevention centers in the United States when two facilities opened in Manhattan in 2021. At these sites, people can use pre-obtained illicit drugs while under the supervision of trained staff. If someone using drugs at one of these sites starts to experience an overdose, the staff can intervene immediately, greatly reducing the odds of fatal overdoses. These sites also provide other harm-reduction services, such as drug testing, syringe services, and overdose prevention training. 

Mobile medication units

In June 2023, New York’s state commissioner for addiction services, Chinazo Cunningham, announced a new program to fund mobile medication units to treat opioid addiction. These vans would house mobile methadone clinics to help bring this medication to people who don’t have convenient access to opioid treatment programs. So far, only two of these mobile medication units are in operation, and both are in New York City. Considering that those outside the city are less likely to live within a reasonable distance of New York opioid treatment programs, more mobile medication units in areas further upstate would be very useful. 

Public-private partnerships

Tackling the opioid crisis will require many different groups to work together, from elected officials and addiction professionals to community leaders and the broader public. Partnerships between private organizations and the public may be the solution. A recent proposal suggested that the federal government partner with private hospitals to create long-term addiction treatment centers. When patients are admitted to the hospital after an overdose, the centers could support their recovery and provide medications for addiction treatment. 

Ophelia’s role in helping New Yorkers facing OUD

As a provider of telehealth addiction treatment, Ophelia is proud to help those dealing with OUD and play a role in fighting the opioid epidemic. The case of New York State makes it clear that limited access to medications for addiction treatment (MAT) is one of the key factors making the opioid crisis more devastating.

Our virtual platform ensures patients with OUD can access MAT and addiction care wherever they are without having to worry about the distance to their nearest addiction treatment center. Telehealth addiction treatment can help New Yorkers in remote areas, people without reliable transportation, and anyone else who prefers private, at-home care get the treatment they need. 

We make it our mission to highlight the power of telehealth addiction treatment. The more the word gets out about this option, the more people will be able to access evidence-based addiction treatment. It’s common for people to believe opioid rehab in New York is their only option for treating OUD, but Ophelia offers a better alternative. 

If you’re looking for accessible, personalized OUD treatment, our team is here for you. Schedule a quick welcome call to see if Ophelia is the right fit. We get to know your needs and circumstances; if Suboxone® or another buprenorphine-naloxone medication is right for you, we make sure it’s accessible through a local pharmacy and get you on an appointment schedule that makes sense for your daily life (important safety information).

Connecting New Yorkers with gold-standard care isn’t just our job—it’s a public health imperative.


Treatment that works is right at your fingertips.

Get started