Fentanyl’s Deadly Grip: Why New York Needs More Tools in the Toolbox

By Sheriff Craig Apple, Albany County | January 26, 2024

As Sheriff of Albany County for the past twelve years and a proud member of the law enforcement community for the past 37 years, I’ve witnessed firsthand the evolving face of the opioid crisis. What was once a battle against prescription misuse has morphed into a life-and-death struggle with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid so potent it can turn a single encounter into a fatal one.

A recent report from the U.S. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) revealed a grim statistic: a record-shattering 386 million doses of fentanyl were seized across the nation in 2023, 10% of that national haul, a staggering 38.6 million potentially lethal doses, originated in New York. That is enough to kill every man woman and child in our state.

The dire statistics paint a devastating picture. In 2022 alone, New York State lost over 5,400 souls to opioid overdoses, a sobering figure that translates to nearly one life claimed every two hours. Closer to home, our Capital Region witnessed more than 350 fatalities – a staggering 30% increase in opioid overdose deaths compared to the previous year, while Albany County mourned the loss of over 60 individuals. Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, were involved in more than 88% of overdose deaths. These aren’t just numbers; they represent families shattered, potential unfulfilled, and futures robbed.

The enemy we face is cunning and ruthless. Fentanyl, often mixed with other drugs, lurks unseen, posing a deadly threat to unsuspecting users. While the familiar blue vial of naloxone, or Narcan, has been a vital weapon in our arsenal, the tides are turning. Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids bind more tightly to opioid receptors than heroin and increasingly require overdose victims to be administered multiple doses of naloxone. This tug-of-war for receptor spaces can stretch precious minutes, sometimes proving futile against the drug’s overwhelming grip. In recent months, the spread of the deadly, narcan resistant zombie drug Xylazine, also known as Tranq, has complicated this matter even further.

Recently, a new hope emerged with the FDA approval of “Fentanyl Fighters,” medications specifically designed to combat synthetic opioids. These new opioid reversal agents, formulated at the request of the federal government, are more effective against synthetic opioids like fentanyl, offering a lifeline where Narcan may fall short.

Yet, despite their proven effectiveness, these lifesaving tools remain locked away from many on the frontlines. New York State’s current standing order, which outlines medications readily available to first responders and community-based organizations, only includes Narcan. This leaves our brave deputy sheriffs, EMS personnel, police officers, and countless volunteers battling against a stacked deck, armed with a weapon not always sufficient for the challenge they face.

The call to action is clear: New York State must update the standing order to ensure all FDA-approved Reverse Opioid Agents, including the newly sanctioned “Fentanyl Fighters”, are accessible to our frontline responders and volunteers to combat the lethal grip of synthetic opioids. It’s a matter of simple logic – equip our first responders with every tool in the toolbox, giving them every possible chance to snatch lives back from the brink. Delaying access to these medications is not just bureaucratic shuffling; it’s a conscious decision to risk the lives of those sworn to protect and serve.

This is not a partisan issue; it’s a matter of human decency and a collective responsibility to save as many lives as possible. We ask more of our first responders than ever, let’s ensure they are armed with the best tools available, not relegated to a losing battle with inadequate equipment. It is time the State Health Department added “Fentanyl Fighters” to the standing order. It is not just a policy change; it’s a statement of our commitment to fighting back against this epidemic, a declaration that no life – in Albany County, the Capital Region, or anywhere in New York – is lost before its time.

The time for delay is over. When responding to an overdose every second counts, hope can fade fast and our heroes need every resource to bridge the gap between life and loss. Let’s give them the tools they need to win this fight, one life at a time.