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Audit finds 68% more New Yorkers died from opioid overdoses during pandemic

N.Y. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli
Mike Groll

Drug overdose deaths in New York surged during the COVID-19 pandemic. Opioid-related deaths increased 68% between 2019 and 2021, according to a report Tuesday from the state comptroller’s office.

Nearly 5,000 New Yorkers died of an opioid overdose in 2021 alone.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said this is largely due to a sharp increase in deaths from opioids, related to illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

DiNapoli shared some of the data at a recovery center in Nassau County.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a very difficult and stressful time for everyone, and certainly for those dealing with addiction," DiNapoli said. "It’s been especially hard given the isolation, the fear and the uncertainty.”

Jeffery Reynolds is president and CEO of Family and Children’s Association, serving Long Island. He said this is just one of the many mental health consequences of COVID. 

“We saw the overdoses spike first hand here during COVID," Reynolds said. "We saw the mental health symptoms. We saw alcohol use go up 35% during COVID. We saw kids unable to go to school. We saw families unable to function. We saw domestic violence cases go up, child abuse cases go up, and so far that hasn’t gone away.” 

The report recommends improvements to state mental health and intervention services, direct funding to the state’s most challenged communities, and other ways to stem substance use.

Drug overdoses killed 20 Nassau County residents per every 100,000 in the year 2020, and 30 people per every 100,000 in Suffolk County.

Sabrina is host and producer of WSHU’s daily podcast After All Things. She also produces the climate podcast Higher Ground and other long-form news and music programs at the station. Sabrina spent two years as a WSHU fellow, working as a reporter and assisting with production of The Full Story.