Bronxites come together for International Overdose Awareness Day, call for remembrance and action

group portrait
Bronxites gather together for International Overdose Awareness Day on Thursday, Aug. 31 at Jacobi Medical Center.
Photo courtesy Alex Porco

Bronxites came together Thursday on International Overdose Awareness Day to honor those who died from overdoses, celebrate those who live in recovery and call for awareness and action.

One of the day’s events took place at Samaritan Daytop Village’s Richard Pruss Wellness Center at 510 Courtlandt Ave. in Mott Haven, which provides care for clients with behavioral needs through substance use programs, peer-based recovery services and primary medical care. The not-for-profit human services agency has more than 60 locations, one of which Michael K. Williams, who played the iconic character Omar on “The Wire” stayed at for six months.

Williams died at age 54 on Sept. 6, 2021, from an accidental overdose caused by cocaine and heroin that had been laced with fentanyl. Fentanyl was involved in 80% of overdose deaths in New York City in 2021, the most common substance involved in these deaths for the fifth year in a row, according to city data.

The late actor’s nephew Dominic Dupont said at the event Thursday that Williams wrote about the impact the program had on his life in his memoir “Scenes from My Life.” Dupont even had an opportunity to visit Williams during his uncle’s stay at the center.

He said that while his uncle’s death was tragic, it is an opportunity to bring awareness to supporting people with substance abuse.

“Sometimes I often hear Michael’s spirit saying to me: ‘I truly value every human life. I always want to make sure that we face stigma, whether it’s because of substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness, incarceration or any other reason. I want to make sure that people feel seen,'” Dupont said. ” … Folks dealing with substance abuse need help so that they don’t end up like the countless people that we have lost throughout the years.”

map color codes neighborhoods by overdose death rate
Bronx neighborhoods saw the highest overdose death rates citywide in 2021.  Chart courtesy NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Bronxites had the highest rate of overdose death in the city in 2021 at 70.6 per 100,000 residents, according to the city’s data. That year — the latest data published — saw the highest rates since the city began reporting in 2000.

The highest of those citywide overdose death rates in 2021 were in Hunts Point-Mott Haven, Crotona-Tremont, Highbridge-Morrisania and Fordham-Bronx Park.

A report released by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli last fall revealed that the Bronx had the third-highest drug overdose death rate across the state in 2020 after Dutchess and Niagara counties. The overdose death rate in the borough went from 8.3 per 100,000 people in 2010 to 39.7 per 100,000 in 2020.

On Thursday, state Sens. Nathalia Fernandez and Luis Sepúlveda emphasized the importance of dedicating funding to alleviate the impacts of the overdose crisis, along with awareness.

“We need everyone to clearly understand that the overdose crisis in the country, and worldwide, is real and serious, and it is rampantly causing death and suffering,” Sepúlveda said.

This year’s state budget allocated $1.5 billion to the Office of Addiction Services and Supports, according to state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

Dominic Dupont speaks at a podium
Dominic Dupont speaks at Samaritan Daytop Village’s Richard Pruss Wellness Center at 510 Courtlandt Ave. on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. Photo courtesy Reggie Johnson

“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,” said Fernandez, who became the chair of the Alcoholism and Substance Use Disorders (ASUD) Committee in the state Senate in January this year.

Here are some of the efforts her committee passed this year:

  • A bill that requires substance use disorder services to provide treatment services that correspond to a patient’s gender identity was signed into law in June.
  • Matthew’s Law – which honors the memory of Matthew Horan, a Westchester resident who died of a fentanyl overdose in November 2020 at age 30 – would make it easier to obtain fentanyl testing kits. The bill passed the state Legislature but has not yet been delivered to Gov. Kathy Hochul.
  • A bill that would require defendants facing court-ordered alcohol or substance use treatment programs to be informed they can attend a nonreligious program has also passed both chambers but has not been delivered to Hochul.
  • A bill that would require general hospitals to offer substance use treatment within 72 hours passed in the Senate but has not made it to the Assembly floor.
  • A bill that would create a problem gambling advisory council also passed the Senate but has not made it to the Assembly floor.

Fernandez, who held a press conference on Thursday at Jacobi Hospital in Morris Park, plans to tour treatment centers, providers and advocacy groups across the state that work with individuals impacted by the opioid crisis to help inform future legislative efforts.

Also on Thursday, St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction on Westchester Avenue hosted a reflection service and spread awareness about harm reduction innovation, and Odyssey House offered fentanyl strips, information on xylazine and opioid overdose reversal training on Davidson Avenue. Naloxone — often referred to as brand name Narcan — can be used to reverse opioid overdoses.

State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a member of the ASUD Committee, has been a staunch advocate for the controversial overdose prevention centers — also known as supervised consumption sites — as a method to address the opioid crisis. Centers in East Harlem and Washington Heights have intervened in more than 1,000 overdoses, according to OnPoint NYC, the organization that runs the centers.

Just across the U.S., nearly 500 events were held as part of this year’s International Overdose Awareness Day effort.

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Reach Aliya Schneider at or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes