STATEN ISLAND — The number of people who died from a drug overdose in the borough last year was the highest in recorded history — cracking triple digits for the first time, according to preliminary data from the city provided by Borough President James Oddo.
At least 104 people died in 2016 from overdoes across the borough — the highest number since 2000, according to early numbers shared with Oddo by the Department of Health. Officials expect the number to climb when the final data is released later this year.
"It puts Richmond County among the worst counties," said Oddo, who said the death count could reach 120 when the final report is released. "We are doing everything seemingly possible, but we're still deep into the throes of this epidemic."
The second deadliest year in the borough since 2000 was in 2012, when 74 people died from overdoses, according to statistics from the Health Department. The agency did not record OD data before 2000.
The borough has been in the midst of a prescription-drug and heroin epidemic for years. Officials blamed last year's spike in part on a rise in fentanyl use, a synthetic drug 50 times more potent than heroin.
"Dealers are mixing heroin with dangerous additives like fentanyl — a substance so toxic that one touch can be fatal," Richmond County District Attorney Michael McMahon previously said in a statement.
"Prevention is key to saving lives and we will continue to work hard to track and investigate these overdoses and lend support to grieving families."
From 2013 to 2014, ODs linked to fentanyl increased by 80 percent nationwide, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
While the Department of Health usually waits until the summer to release overdose numbers for the city, McMahon's office started to track them last year as part of his Overdose Response Initiative, which investigates every suspected overdose in an attempt to trace the source of the drugs.
Elected officials have launched numerous programs to help drive overdose numbers down including making naloxone — a drug that essentially reverses the effect of an opioid overdose — available over the counter and promoting the use of medically assisted treatments like buprenorphine.
Lawmakers started a push for a federal law that would tighten control of fentanyl and toughen penalties for dealers who use it. The NYPD is also planning to establish an "Opioid Squad" that would charge dealers responsible for ODs with homicide.
Earlier this month, McMahon and several other groups announced a new program that would drop charges for some low-level drug offenders if they attended a treatment program after their arrest.