NYC makes shocking warning ad to combat widespread fentanyl epidemic

NEW YORK — It's an opioid so toxic that the city government is doubling down in its efforts to alert people about the dangers of fentanyl.

The city's special prosecutor for narcotics had a 30-second ad made. It shows that producers of the opioid drug have to wear gas masks in order to not be killed by exposure to it. The ad was created as fentanyl usage becomes more widespread in metro New York,

"What happens to users?" the ad asks. "They get to wear a mask, too."

A young woman wearing an oxygen mask, struggling to breathe, is shown in the ad. An EKG machine registers her heartbeat with electronic blips. Seconds later, the blips flatline into one long, steady tone. Her heart is no longer beating.

"It's intense," said Katherine Schrue, a Brooklynite to whom PIX11 showed the ad. "It gets their point across pretty well that it's deadly."

Edward Muñoz, another Brooklyn resident, also watched the ad for the first time.

"Seeing that, I don't think anyone would want to go through that," he said.

Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan said the ad's scare factor was intentional.

"They need to know the city is being flooded with this drug," Brennan told PIX11 News. "It's being sold as heroin. It's being sold as cocaine. It's being sold on its own and the customer is not being told that."

Brennan's office has become progressively more busy in the last year due in no small part to the significant rise of fentanyl abuse.

Her office was heavily involved in handling the case of Carlos Ramirez.  He's being held on $200,000 bail, having been accused of bringing 40 pounds of fentanyl into the Bronx from his home in Colorado with intent to sell.  He was arraigned on Tuesday in what Brennan and the NYPD call the largest fentanyl bust in New York City history.

Police Commissioner James O'Neill said that the 40-pound cache had the potential to lead to 7 million overdoses.

Brennan called that "really quite scary."

Echoing that message on Wednesday was the city's top doctor.  Health Commissioner Mary Travis Bassett said the proliferation of fentanyl is a crisis that New Yorkers cannot know enough about.

"In 2015, we clocked in 937 overdose deaths," Bassett said. "The majority of them, about 80 percent, were related to an opioid."

However, because of the increased use of fentanyl, the number of overdose deaths has increased, Bassett said. Last year saw 1,374 deaths from drug overdoses -- a 46 percent increase from 2015.

Half of those cases involved fentanyl, Bassett told PIX11 News.

"Fentanyl is a very potent, synthetic opioid," she said.

Bassett said that just as important as helping to lower the abuse rate for the drug, is alerting people about treatment.

Naloxone is a drug that reverses overdoses from opioid use. The drug is available at participating pharmacies for payment out-of-pocket or with insurance.

"New Yorkers can get Naloxone without a prescription at certain community-based organizations for free," Bassett said. "It's a life-saving medication."

The New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has more information about acquiring naloxone here.