Staten Island Task Force Focus on Reducing Opioid Overdoses

This March will mark the fourth anniversary of the death of Mark Grunlund's son, Sam. He died in 2020 of a fentanyl and cocaine overdose.

Grunlund remembered his son as a good athlete: a baseball pitcher in his youth before he started using drugs.


What you need to know

  • A task force formed by Staten Island District Attorney Mike McMahon and Borough President Vito Fossella has released 13 recommendations to reduce opioid deaths
  • The task force recommended that Governor Kathy Hochul declare a public health emergency
  • McMahon said the recommendations include cooperation with law enforcement, a change in drug laws and increased access to harm reduction programs

The young Staten Island resident was 27 when he died in Florida.

“Not a day goes by that I don't miss him,” Grunlund said.

Grunlund belongs to a support group where he learned that Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon had an opioid overdose task force.

“They were looking for volunteers and I jumped at the chance to put in my two cents,” Grunlund said.

On Wednesday, Grunlund was in McMahon's office, along with other task force members, as the group made their recommendations to stop overdose deaths from opioids and fentanyl.

“It's going to be more than harm reduction. We can't get out of it. We need education and prevention. All these elements come together and they can create improvement,” McMahon said.

The recommendations include:

  • Increased coordination with law enforcement agencies in the region
  • Allowing more drug offenses to be eligible for bail
  • Increase funding for education and early prevention programs
  • Give people addicted to drugs priority access to housing programs
  • Increased access to overdose prevention and harm reduction services in the community

The task force declined to take a position on safe injection sites.

There were 155 suspected fatal overdoses on Staten Island last year. That's more than triple the 51 people who died from suspected overdoses in 2009.

“We often receive reports of clients who have died from a fentanyl overdose. We have had people overdose in our bathrooms,” said Diane Arneth, executive director of Community Health Action of Staten Island. “If we don't work diligently and effectively with people who continue to use drugs in a way that helps them reduce the harms of those drugs, we will continue to see very high overdose rates.”

Grunlund brought a different perspective.

“I advocate for stricter penalties,” Grunland said.

As for fentanyl and xylazine, Grunland does not believe they should be classified as Class A drugs.

'They should be classified as something worse. They are poison,” Grunland said.

The task force's main recommendation is that New York state declare an opioid public health emergency, something advocates for Gov. Kathy Hochul have urged.

The task force says such a declaration could allow the state to take immediate action, such as accelerating the deployment of opioid settlement funds and waiving insurance costs for New Yorkers trying to access addiction treatment.

Hochul has spoken publicly about her family tragedy: her cousin died of an overdose. She outlined new proposals in her State of the State address, such as updating New York's list of controlled substances to include fentanyl analogs, xylazine and other prescription drugs.

While her spokesperson, Avi Small, did not comment on calls for a public health emergency, he said the governor will “continue to make smart, responsible investments to address the extraordinary scale of this crisis and provide support to those who need it.”

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