Despite a nationwide effort to stop opioid abuse, overdose deaths continue to rise.

Steven Bell’s struggle with addiction started when he was prescribed Oxycontin after a surgery. But when he was introduced to fentanyl, the New Jersey native nearly lost his life. “All it takes is a very little bit to kill you. I’ve experienced overdoses myself with it, because it’s very strong,” Bell said.

Bell is alive thanks to the overdose-reversing medication Narcan, also known as naloxone. He’s now in treatment at the Camelot substance abuse program on New York’s Staten Island. “I didn’t know how to stop, so I definitely had to go away to treatment to have somebody help me stop,” he said.

Camelot’s Chief Operating Officer Carl Feren believes the crisis is getting worse, not better. “Fentanyl is everywhere. In everything,” Feren said.

The CDC says more than 107,000 Americans died from overdoses in 2021, up 15% from the year before. Two-thirds of those deaths are linked to fentanyl and similar synthetic opioids.

More communities are trying a new approach, making Narcan available in public places. Some churches and libraries in Austin, Texas, have installed vending machines that dispense free Narcan. Last month, the Los Angeles Unified School District gave every middle and high school Narcan. This decision came after the district saw 7 student overdoses in a month, including one that took the life of 15-year old Melanie Ramos.

“Offering that is definitely a plus, it’s a very simple tool I think to assist on the streets, on the ground level,” Feren said.

He also says there’s a desperate need for more substance abuse counselors and social workers. “There’s just not enough to go around to serve the population. It’s been underfunded, underpaid,” Feren added.

Bell believes it will take a national commitment to stop the growing epidemic. “It definitely needs to be addressed more and looked at more, definitely,” he said.