Innovative program fights opioid crisis as NYC overdose deaths climb to historic highs

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Tuesday, September 26, 2023
Program fights opioid crisis with AI as NYC overdose deaths rise
An innovative and first-of-its-kind program on Staten Island is using artificial intelligence to reduce non-fatal overdoses. CeFaan Kim has the story.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- An innovative and first-of-its-kind program on Staten Island is using artificial intelligence to reduce non-fatal overdoses.

There was a time in Joseph Castro's not too distant past when he was unemployed and living day by day, drowning in darkness and negativity.

He had no future and he had no hope. But then someone believed in him and he was able to turn his life around: the people behind Hotspotting the Overdose Epidemic program.

In only its first year, researchers say it has led to an 81% drop.

"The overdose crisis is a five alarm fire, it's been raging for far too long," said Tuesday Muller-Mondi with the Staten Island District Attorney's Office.

The program counted two overdose-related deaths in the active group compared to 11 in the non-engaged group.

"When people fall in the river, we know how to get them out, very quickly, effectively, but we have to make sure people don't fall into the river in the first place," said Dr. Ram Raju with the Staten Island Borough President's Office.

The initiative is sponsored by the Staten Island Performing Provider System and Northwell Health, the parent company of Staten Island University Hospital, and the program merges peer advocacy with AI.

The AI is a predictive analytic program that pulls data to identify who is at the highest risk of an overdose.

It takes more than 100 variables into account like pre-existing conditions, medications, any history of substance abuse disorder, and social variables -- like a criminal history or even zip codes.

It comes as the city health department says overdose deaths have climbed to historic highs.

"The pharmaceutical industry fueled this crisis, this is blood money and the money needs to be reinvested in programs that are going to restore people's health," said program executive director Dr. Joseph Conte.

As for Castro, he has life goals today he says he couldn't have even imagined of having before this program.

New York City's alarming data on overdose deaths

Disturbing new data from New York City shows overdose deaths have climbed to historic highs.

The Department of Health says overdose deaths increased by 12% between 2021 and 2022 and data shows persistent disparities in overdose deaths by age, race, poverty level and neighborhood of residence.

More than 3,000 people died which is the highest number of overdose deaths since reporting began in 2000.

Fentanyl, the opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, was detected in 81% of those deaths.

In the city, Black and Latino New Yorkers and residents of the South Bronx neighborhoods of Crotona-Tremont, Hunts Point-Mott Haven, and Highbridge, experienced the highest rates of overdose deaths.

For the first time, the officials reported on overdose deaths by setting: Approximately 60% of overdose deaths occurred in the person's own or someone else's home and 16% occurred in a public setting.

In response to the new data, the health department is recommending New Yorkers carry Narcan and know how to use it, avoid using drugs alone and keep all drugs, including medications, safely stored.

Click here for more resources from New York City.

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