White, middle-class America has been rightly accused of neglecting the problems besetting people of color and families in poverty. The opioid epidemic has served as a wake-up call for complacent suburbia as this is a scourge that knows no class boundaries.
The state Department of Health reports that opioid-related deaths in Monroe County totaled 20 in 2003. While dramatically less than the 159 deaths reported for 2016, Monroe’s 2003 rate was already fourth-highest among New York’s 20 largest counties. Nor is the opioid epidemic particularly severe in New York City, as many upstate residents might assume.
Upstate rates of opioid deaths far exceed the rates experienced in New York City’s largest boroughs—Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. More suburban Staten Island reports rates comparable to large upstate counties. Neighboring Erie County (Buffalo) has been worst hit by the epidemic.
The problem is labeled an epidemic for a reason: The growth in the rate of deaths due to opioid overdoses is, frankly, terrifying and has properly spurred a strong response from public health authorities. As the chart below shows, the rates in Albany, Onondaga, Monroe and Erie counties were roughly comparable in 2010 but have risen and diverged since. (Note: For comparability across counties, the figure shows opioid-related deaths per million population, not the number of deaths.)