Brooklyn Boro

At House of Yes, city gives ‘just say no’ a new twist

With fentanyl-related deaths on the rise, the city is stepping up a safety initiative in Brooklyn's bars and nightclubs.

June 28, 2019 Mary Frost
NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot speaking to reporters at House of Yes in Brooklyn. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
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Just about anything can happen in Bushwick’s House of Yes, but this was a new one.

With a seven-foot-tall polar bear (stuffed) looming a few feet away, the commissioner of the city’s Health Department (not stuffed) hit the anything-goes nightspot to launch a campaign warning Brooklyn bar- and club-goers that fentanyl, an opioid 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, has been detected in local cocaine supply.

As part of a new outreach campaign, Health Department personnel will be visiting roughly 250 bars and nightclubs in Williamsburg and Bushwick to offer naloxone — a medication that reverses opioid overdoses — and staff training. They’re also bringing coasters and posters to inform patrons that cocaine may contain fentanyl.

“This is about keeping people alive. And as the city’s doctor, I take that seriously,” Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot told reporters gathered under the mirrored disco balls, sparkly curtains and giant eyeballs suspended from the nightclub’s ceiling.

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“It’s not every day you have the Health Commissioner and bar owners standing side by side to talk about health, but today is that day,” she said. “With health, we meet people where they are in New York City, and it turns out a lot of people in New York City like frequenting our bars.”

New York City has suffered seven consecutive years of increasing deaths from opioids, driven by the presence of fentanyl in the drug supply, Barbot said.

Opioids were involved in 82 percent of overdose deaths citywide last year. Of those, fentanyl was the most common opioid, involved in 57 percent of overdose deaths.

The Health Department is targeting north Brooklyn because “this area is a nightlife destination, and we want to reach people who use cocaine occasionally as part of their night out,” Barbot said.

To reduce risk, “Carry naloxone,” Barbot said. “If you’re going to use cocaine, use it with someone else. In the event that there’s an unfortunate overdose, there’s someone there to call 911. And use small amounts first, because you can’t see it, taste it or smell it, so you don’t know if fentanyl is in your cocaine supply.”

Naloxone kits distributed by NYC DOH on Thursday. Photo by Mary Frost
Naloxone kits distributed by NYC DOH on Thursday. Photo by Mary Frost

Joining Barbot under the disco balls were Ariel Palitz, senior executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife , David Rosen, co-founder of Brooklyn Allied Bars and Restaurants, and Jacqui Rabkin, director of marketing at House of Yes.

Bar owners were pleasantly surprised by the Health Department’s judgement-free attitude, Rosen said.

“The Department of Health should be commended for their proactive research, campaign development and outreach efforts,” he said. Local bars have been emphasizing safety over the past few years, he said, and this campaign represents a logical progression.

The House of Yes was all in with DOH, Rabkin said.

“We’re grateful to the Health Department for taking this ‘real world’ approach,” She said. “This is an opportunity for people to watch out for each other.”

Rabkin said that prior to working at House of Yes, she spent the previous eight years working as a neuroscientist studying the effects of cocaine on the neural pathways of the brain.

“Needless to say, I’ve been passionate about working with populations that use addictive substances for much of my life.” She added that she was honored to represent House of Yes in this effort with the Health Department.

Reporters received a lesson in using naloxone from Molly Libou, research and surveillance manager for NYC DOH, and received a kit to bring home with them.

When administering the naloxone, “Remember the three Ps,” Libou instructed. “Peel, place and press.”

This campaign is an expansion of a pilot on the Lower East Side in May and June 2018. Barbot said the city is playing it by ear when it coms to future expansions.

From January to September 2018, there were 1,055 confirmed overdose deaths, she said. Fentanyl has been now found in heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and ketamine, as well as painkillers acquired from non-pharmaceutical sources.

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