With support from NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, the project distributes free Fentanyl detection test strips and offers training on how to use them

Fentanyl vial, needle and partial text definition.
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Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times stronger than morphine, is driving the current wave of overdose deaths. Often consumed unknowingly, it is accelerating the rate and widening the reach of the opioid-related overdose epidemic in the U.S.

A new, South Bronx-centered initiative led by NYU Silver School of Social Work professors Jennifer Manuel and Lance Keene has drawn a New York City grant to help educate residents who use drugs, as well as the broader South Bronx community, about the risks from Fentanyl.

Titled the New York City Communities for Health (NYCC4H) initiative, the outreach effort is using the $40,000 in support from the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene to distribute free Fentanyl test strips, which detect the presence of the potent opioid in a drug after the drug is diluted. The project is also providing training on Naloxone, a medication designed to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose.

The city’s grant was approved in January. NYCC4H also receives support for HIV and Substance Use Disorder prevention and treatment from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). NYCC4H has hired two peer outreach workers with lived experience of substance use or recovery.

In 2020, a total of 1,580 New Yorkers died from a Fentanyl-involved overdose, according to the health department. The rate of overdose death per 100,000 people was 75.3 for the Hunts Point-Mott Haven neighborhood, compared with the citywide rate of 30.5.

“We are training people in the community, whoever wants it,” explained R. Yamir Gomez Carrasco, NYCC4H program manager. “With the current wave of overdoses, research shows that one person dies every four hours in New York City from an overdose. So we want to get these tools in the hands of people who need it, particularly people who use non-opioid drugs like cocaine and meth as they may not be aware of fentanyl-related overdose risk.”

Mott Haven is the geographical focus of the NYU Silver School of Social Work initiative because, Gomez Carrasco said, it is “disproportionately impacted by overdoses due to disinvestments in the neighborhood, as seen in its designation as a medically underserved area, as well as other drivers of disparities associated with structural inequities.”

The training can take three minutes during street outreach or, when delivered in-depth, half an hour. The goal is to reach 600 people on how to use Fentanyl test strips by the end of June. In addition, two animated training videos, to be posted online, are in the works as part of an online resource center where New York City residents will be able to view the training videos and request supplies on a 24/7 basis, said Gomez Carrasco.

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