The Causes and Effects of Manhattan’s Drug Problem

The Causes and Effects of Manhattan’s Drug Problem

The great State of New York is known for all kinds of things, a place of opportunity, a hotpot of different cultures, the heroin capital of America. Manhattan was host to an opioid problem from the early 1900s, with shooting galleries being found throughout the city by the 1960s.

NYC has fought back against the drug as much as it can, being the first place in America to use methadone, and starting numerous drug rehab programs and building addiction recovery centers in Manhattan.

Although the war against opioids has not been won, there are still strong efforts, with opiate treatment being widely available and accessible and free addiction rehab centers being built throughout Manhattan.

An “Equal Opportunity” Problem

Nowadays opiate addiction is considered a problem that transcends socio-economic situations, with many believing that it affects all people equally. While this may seem true in some places, the fact is that a majority of users are from lower socio-economic classes, especially those who are in poverty. It’s also been discovered in recent years that those on Medicaid are more likely to be prescribed opiates for longer periods, further reinforcing the idea that it affects lower caste people of society.

Another factor which seems to add to this problem is that those in lower socio-economic groups have less access to evidence-based addiction rehabilitation, which results in more people relapsing and further perpetuating the problem. It’s clear that environmental and social stress are driving factors behind this problem, it’s been examined in dual diagnosis treatment centers over the years that stress can be almost directly related to proneness to addiction via mental illness.

In the past it was thought that the solution to this problem was simply education, and programs like D.A.R.E became popular ways to try and fix it before it started. Sadly, programs like these haven’t been as effective as was thought. Nowadays it’s becoming more clear that to combat this problem we need to change how our society works, and that may take a lot longer to implement.

HIV and Hepatitis

While overdoses may be the first negative effect one thinks of when we consider the opioid crisis, the biggest concern of 30-40 years ago is still affecting society today. In fact, by the 1990s, Manhattan was experiencing the highest rates of HIV-infected injection drug users (IDUs) of anywhere in the world (according to the National Research Council).

In recent years the risk of getting HIV has dropped to almost 3 percent, thanks to clean needle exchanges and over-the-counter syringe purchasing options. This has also greatly reduced the spread of hepatitis through the same medium.

While we are still seeing many opiate-related problems today, this harm prevention must be remembered and celebrated as it has saved countless lives of not only users but those around them.


The new concern for Manhattan and the world in terms of the opioid crisis is of course fentanyl, an incredibly potent synthetic opioid which is being mixed into almost any white powder drug which is available in the black market. The intense potency of this drug makes it incredibly easy to overdose on, with over 2,000 deaths in 2017 (in NY) being attributed to it.

In an attempt to move it off the streets, the professional production of this drug has been extremely limited, which has led to black market production and in turn has made it more dangerous than ever.

At this time the use of fentanyl in drugs is growing exponentially and it seems that it’s not going away just yet, perhaps making drug testing kits available to reduce unnecessary overdoses will be a step in the right direction away from this horrific death rate.

Prescription Drugs

With the variety of opioid derivatives and synthetic opioids available these days, and even being advertised on TV, we have allowed these drugs to become normalized while attempting to demonize their black market counterparts. With systems like Medicaid being used to access strong opioids in large amounts, we will continue to see the opiate epidemic raging in Manhattan and throughout the rest of the United States.

Denying people a pain-free existence is cruel, but allowing people to fall into the trap of addiction to opiates is lethal. More research needs to be done through our government agencies and on the front line in rehab centers, and hopefully one day we can beat this beast that has been holding back our society for so long now.

If you or anyone you know is addicted to opiates seek professional help, addiction may feel permanent but it can be beaten.