Rates of overdose death in New York City (NYC) increased 26% from 2000 to 2015, with a notable decrease in rate from 2006 to 2010. Beginning in 2016, the synthetic opioid fentanyl entered the NYC illicit drug market and has been associated with large increases in overdose death. This study assessed NYC trends in opioid-involved overdose death prior to fentanyl to understand the contribution of specific opioids and inform overdose prevention strategies.
Data were derived from death certificates linked to postmortem toxicology testing. We stratified cases into three mutually exclusive groups: (1) heroin without opioid analgesics (OAs); (2) OAs without heroin; and (3) the combination of heroin and OAs. We calculated mortality rates by year, and compared rates by the demographic characteristics age, sex, and race/ethnicity. Joinpoint regression identified junctures in trends between 2000 and 2015.
Rates of overdose death involving heroin without OAs decreased from 2006 to 2010, then increased from 2010 to 2015 among males, persons age 15 to 54, and Blacks and Whites. Rates of overdose death involving OAs with and without heroin increased from 2000 to 2015 across all demographic subgroups.
The identified trends in overdose death are suggestive of demographic shifts in drug use. In particular, the tamper-resistant reformulation of oxycodone 80 mg may have increased the use of heroin among primary OA users. Notably, older adults may have had established heroin use practices prior to the proliferation of OAs and thus may have been less likely to modify drug use practices.