It’s not rum and coke — but fentanyl and coke on L.E.S.

A poster for a Department of Health pilot program on the Lower East Side raising awareness about potentially deadly fentanyl-laced cocaine. Photo by Gerard Flynn

BY GERARD FLYNN | “If you live in this city long enough, you are going to know someone touched by an overdose,” a bar operator on Ludlow St. told The Villager last week. The owner spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern that members of the Lower East Side Dwellers might be prompted to create more trouble for bars and restaurants on the Lower East Side.

Last month, a judge tossed out a defamation lawsuit against the Dwellers, which was filed by No Fun, a hipster hangout just blocks away and the scene of a recent drug-overdose death.

Emily Fayssoux, a Brooklyn resident, reportedly lost consciousness while sitting on a sofa there last month. The 25-year-old was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The North Carolina native was reportedly using cocaine earlier in the day that allegedly was laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate that Mexican drug cartels have been flooding the U.S. with since 2015.

Because it’s cheaper and easier to produce than a natural opiate, such as morphine, drug dealers have been spiking glassine bags of heroin with fentanyl.

City health records show that while heroin was involved in 751, or 55 percent, of all overdose deaths in New York City in 2016, 46 percent of overdose deaths involved cocaine and 37 percent of those cocaine overdose deaths involved cocaine laced with fentanyl. The rate was highest among white New Yorkers, city data show.

The new trend has prompted the city’s Department of Health to launch a pilot program on the Lower East Side. The initiative officially kicked off last month, targeting bars and nightclubs along a pilot area bounded by Delancey St. on the south, E. Houston St. on the north, Bowery on the west, and Essex St. on the east.

Since May 23, just three days before Fayssoux died, D.O.H. has been hitting the streets, handing out fliers and coasters, and training staff how to recognize signs of an overdose and administer Naloxone, the opiate antagonist that blocks the effects of an overdose.

Cocaine users are especially at risk if they are not habitual opiate users. Dr. Denise Paone, director of research and development in the D.O.H. Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Use Prevention, told The Villager that cocaine users might be “opiate naive,” not using opiates routinely and thus having a low tolerance for fentanyl, making them at “increased risk from an overdose.”

“The bar project,” she said, “is about alerting people who might be using cocaine, and that the cocaine they might be using might contain fentanyl.”

So far, she said, 18 bars or restaurants have signed on to the program.

“We picked the Lower East Side because we wanted to go to where there is a high density of bars and destination spots, so we could reach a maximum number of people,” she explained.

The area draws bustling crowds on weekends and rowdy behavior, much to the annoyance of locals

As with other opiate overdoses, she said the signs of a fentanyl OD vary by person but generally include decreased breathing, blue coloring around the mouth and fingernails and nonresponsiveness.

“We don’t know why fentanyl is being cut into the cocaine supply” she said, adding that many coke users have never heard of the synthetic opiate, which, she noted, “does not have a particular look or smell or taste.”

Despite Health’s efforts, not everyone working in bars and nightclubs in the pilot zone has heard of the program — nor of fentanyl, including a bartender at No Fun, who was cagey, to say the least, when asked about the recent overdose death there.

Another area bartender also had neither heard of the pilot program nor fentanyl, though recalled the ambulance pulling up that night outside No Fun. She told The Villager she has used cocaine in the past. Asked if she would use it again now that fentanyl is in the supply, she did not rule it out.

“I might,” she said.

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