Bronx, NY— As part of the global effort to raise awareness about the devastating impact of overdose deaths and to highlight the urgent need for comprehensive solutions, Senator Nathalia Fernandez held a press conference on August 31st, Overdose Awareness Day at Jacobi Medical Center.
Senator Fernandez was joined by distinguished colleagues, dedicated medical professionals, and passionate substance use disorder advocates, as they addressed the media and the community at large, shedding light on the critical issue of overdose deaths and the steps being taken to combat this public health crisis. Addressing the media were Assemblymember John Zaccaro, Assemblymember Yudelka Tapia, Dr, Jantra Coll of New York Health & Hospitals: Jacobi, Jeremy King of Odyssey House, and Justin Mitchell from VIP Community Services. Also in attendance were nurses, doctors, and addiction specialists from Jacobi and the VIP Community Services Mobile Medication Unit and staff.
Overdose Awareness Day serves as a solemn occasion to remember those who have tragically lost their lives to drug overdoses, offering a moment of reflection and remembrance for families, friends, and communities impacted by this epidemic. The press conference also serves as a platform to discuss ongoing efforts and the necessary future actions required to prevent further overdose deaths.
The opioid crisis in New York is unfortunately exceeding the national trends, and the Bronx is no exception. With the highest rate of overdose deaths in the city, the Bronx is at the heart of the fight of recovery and harm reduction against this epidemic.
“Deaths involving any opioid nearly tripled over the past decade and the stigma around overdose-related deaths has only forced individuals to suffer in silence,” said Senator Fernandez. “Overdose Awareness Day aims to help combat the stigma that surrounds drug-related deaths and acknowledge the grief felt by those who have lost someone as the result of an overdose.”
In furtherance of this goal, Senator Fernandez, in her new role as committee chair, changed the name from Alcoholism and Substance Abuse to Alcoholism and Substance Use Disorders (ASUD).
“We cannot simply stop at awareness. We must mobilize the necessary resources to combat this epidemic. We need increased funding to support initiatives aimed at preventing overdoses, expanding treatment options, and providing support to individuals and families affected by addiction. Investment in research, treatment programs, and community-based organizations is crucial for our success.”
In 2023 the ASUD committee passed a number of bills addressing this issue, including making fentanyl test strips and opioid antagonists more available throughout the state, making treatment for SUD more accessible and less expensive, breaking down the wall between mental health and SUD treatment to allow for better collaboration, ensuring those who have both SUD and contact with the criminal justice system receive the care and treatment they need regardless of incarceration status.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “Overdose Awareness Day serves as a poignant reminder of the lives lost to the grip of addiction. I commend Senator Nathalia Fernandez for her commitment to legislative action and a comprehensive approach in combating overdose deaths and addiction. True progress demands funding, research, and support for those affected, and I am proud that this year’s State Budget allocated $1.5 billion for the Office of Addiction Services and Supports. By breaking down the barriers of stigma and silence, we pave the way for compassion, understanding, and real solutions.”
Bronx Borough President Vaness L. Gibson said, “Today, we remember those that we have lost to overdoses in our borough and celebrate those living in recovery. We stand with their families and loved ones and lift up our first responders and medical professionals for working to save lives every day. I want to thank Senator Fernandez for her advocacy and commitment to ending this public health crisis.”
Assemblymember John Zaccaro, Jr. said, “Tragically far too many Bronxites have had their lives ended because of a drug overdose, a collective loss felt throughout our Borough. Overdose Awareness Day is a somber, yet impactful day of remembrance and action. I am proud to work with my colleagues in the legislature and our community partners throughout the Bronx to provide assistance and support for all those struggling with a substance use disorder.”
Council Member Marjorie Velázquez said, “Overdose Awareness Day focuses our efforts to help those impacted by substance use and encourage those who need help to get it. Substance use has historically been a scourge for countless people, and in partnership with Senator Fernandez, we will continue to advocate to bring the critical resources and assistance to the people who need it.”
Senator Gustavo Rivera said, “On this International Overdose Awareness Day, we should not only solemnly remember those who died from an overdose, but continue working to implement life saving measures that will help our State overcome this terrible crisis. I will continue to work with my Senate Majority colleagues to pass policies that will urgently address the gravity of our State’s opioid overdose epidemic, including my Safer Consumption Services Act because our priority is to keep New Yorkers alive so that they can recover.”
Senator Shelley Mayer said, “On Overdose Awareness Day, we mourn those we have lost to drug overdoses and remember the pain they and their loved ones have endured. We must commit ourselves to identifying and implementing proven harm reduction solutions and reducing barriers to treatment for those who suffer from addiction. Thank you to Senator Fernandez for honoring this day and her work to reduce these deaths.”
Dr. Jantra Coll, Psy.D., said, “Once a problem served only in designated clinics, we at Jacobi pride ourselves in offering trauma-informed care to all the patients in need of these services, who feel most comfortable in a respected hospital setting. From the Emergency Room, Inpatient Medicine, to ambulatory care, we meet our patients where they are and motivate them toward a life of recovery.”
Office of Addiction Services and Supports Commissioner Dr. Chinazo Cunningham said, “Overdose Awareness Day is an opportunity for us all to come together to recognize the individuals, families, and communities throughout New York State that have been affected by this crisis, as well as commit to stopping more overdose deaths. This observance is a reminder that too many lives continue to be lost to overdoses, and we must remain committed to working to bring help and support to all New Yorkers who have been impacted by this epidemic.”
Peter Provet, President and CEO of Odyssey House, said, “On Opioid Awareness Day, Odyssey House is honored to recognize Senator Fernandez, and join the nation in raising awareness of the opioid crisis and its devastating impact on families and communities. We are committed to providing treatment and recovery services to those who are struggling with opioid addiction, and we will continue to work tirelessly to end this epidemic.
Opioid addiction is a complex disease, but it is treatable. With the right support, people can recover and live healthy, productive lives. Odyssey House offers a variety of evidence-based treatment programs, including Medication-Assisted Treatment, individual and group therapy, and case management. We also provide support services for families and loved ones.
If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, please reach out to us and other treatment providers for help. We are here to offer hope and support on the journey to recovery.”
Ann-Marie Foster, President and CEO of Phoenix Houses, said, “On this International Overdose Awareness Day, we honor the many lives needlessly lost to the opioid epidemic. At Phoenix House we provide substance use disorder and mental health treatment, and offer harm reduction solutions. We, with our government partners like Senator Fernandez, must attack this epidemic from all sides to reduce drug misuse and accidental overdose deaths. Together we can fight this.”
In preparation for the 2024 legislative session, Senator Fernandez will begin a tour of treatment centers, providers, and advocacy groups across New York State who work with individuals impacted by the opioid crisis in order to bring more understanding of on the ground experience and knowledge to future legislation. The tour will include sites in Rochester, Buffalo, Poughkeepsie, Binghamton, Ithaca, Cortland, Long Island, and New York City.