FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Press Release # 009-10 Monday, March 1, 2010
MEDIA CONTACT: (212) 788-5290
Jessica Scaperotti/Zoe Tobin: PressOffice@health.nyc.gov
New Health Department Report Shows that Drug Overdose Deaths Have Declined
Drug-related fatalities drop by 27% in two years, but illicit drug use still too common in New York
March 1, 2010 – Unintentional drug overdose deaths declined sharply in
2008, falling to the lowest level seen in New York City since 1999, the Health
Department reported today. The annual number of deaths fell from 874 in 2006 to
666 in 2008, a new report shows, marking a 27% decline in the city’s
drug-related death rate over two years. Yet drug overdose remains the third
leading cause of premature death among New Yorkers between 25 to 34 years old,
affirming the need to address the health consequences of drug use in the
“In addition to drug poisoning, drug use increases the risk of injury,
depression and hypertension, as well as liver disease, HIV and other sexually
transmitted infections,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health
Commissioner. “Anyone using illicit substances should get help by calling 311 or
Survey data suggest that nearly a million New Yorkers have used illicit drugs
during the past year. Marijuana is the city’s most commonly used illicit drug,
but most of the severe health consequences result from cocaine and opioids,
which include heroin and pain relievers. Approximately 4% of New York City
adults 35 and older report using prescription pain relievers without a
prescription, or for reasons other than pain relief, during the past year.
Cocaine use has also increased – most markedly among men, whose self-reported
rate of abuse reached 5.8% in 2006, more than double the 2002 rate.
The report, available
here (PDF), details the health impact of these trends. Drug use was a
factor in nearly 55,000 hospital emergency department visits in 2007, and nearly
a tenth of the city’s hospital admissions are drug related. People between the
ages of 35 and 54 make up two thirds of drug-related hospitalizations, and more
than half of those hospitalizations (54%) occurred to New Yorkers living in
low-income neighborhoods. Cocaine is the city’s leading cause of drug-related
emergency-department visits and hospitalizations, followed by heroin and other
opioids – but opioids are involved in more fatalities.
The groups with the highest drug-related death rates include older blacks,
middle-aged Hispanics and younger white adults. Some 98% of unintentional drug
overdose deaths involve multiple substances, including alcohol. Approximately
three quarters of these deaths involve opioids (such as heroin, methadone and
prescription pain relievers), and 53% involve cocaine.
The reasons for the decline in overdose deaths are not clear. They may relate
in part to community-based initiatives, established by law in 2006, to
distribute naloxone within high-risk populations. Naloxone is a highly effective
antidote to opioid overdose that can be life-saving when administered
The report includes steps that health care providers and social service
providers can take to discourage illicit drug use and prevent drug-related
illness and death. Among the recommendations:
Screen all patients for substance abuse problems.
Prescribe psychotherapeutic medication only as necessary, and educate
patients to help prevent non-medical use.
Advise patients to keep their medications inaccessible to others.
Direct patients not to share medications with anyone else.
Offer education and outreach programs in places frequented by higher-risk
populations, including emergency departments, detoxification service centers,
methadone maintenance treatment programs, and homeless shelters.
LIFENET is a confidential, toll-free help line for New Yorkers struggling
with emotional and substance abuse problems. Trained mental health professionals
can help callers find the most appropriate services for their needs. LIFENET is
multilingual and multicultural, and it operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a
In Spanish: 877-AYUDESE (877-298-3373)
In Mandarin, Cantonese and Korean dialects: 877-990-8585