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Press Release

Press Release # 013-13
Tuesday, May 14, 2013

MEDIA CONTACT: (347) 396-4177
Jean Weinberg/Veronica Lewin:

Health Department Data Show Increase In Opioid Prescription Painkiller Deaths In New York City

Opioid painkiller overdose death rates in Staten Island four times higher than in Manhattan, Queens or Brooklyn, increasing by 261% since 2005

Health Department to convene two conferences for physicians and dentists on Staten Island next month

May 14, 2013 – The Health Department released new data today showing that between 2005 and 2011, the New York City rate of overdose deaths from prescription opioid painkillers increased by 65%. While rates of opioid painkiller overdose deaths increased across all boroughs, Staten Island saw the largest increase over the last several years. In 2011, rates of opioid painkiller overdose deaths in Staten Island were four times as high as Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn, increasing by 261% since 2005. Overall, 220 persons died of overdose by prescription opioid painkillers in 2011, including 40 Staten Islanders. The Health Department also announced it would convene two conferences for physicians and dentists in Staten Island next month to help address the issue. At these conferences, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley will present the new data, and will lead a discussion on strategies providers can use to help reverse the opioid epidemic. The full text of the report is here.

Opioid painkillers include such drugs as oxycodone (e.g. Percocet® or OxyContin®) and hydrocodone (e.g. Vicodin®). Between 2008 and 2011, the number of opioid painkiller prescriptions filled by New York City residents increased by 31% from approximately 1.6 million to approximately 2.2 million, with oxycodone accounting for 53% of those prescriptions.

“Prescription opioids can be dangerous drugs,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. “They are chemically and biologically very similar to heroin and, like heroin, can lead to addiction and fatal overdose. Physicians and patients need to know the potential dangers of using these drugs.”

“The Health Department’s data confirms what many Staten Islanders have unfortunately witnessed firsthand: prescription opioid painkillers are out of control in our borough and taking far too many of our loved ones,” said Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro. “I applaud the Health Department for bringing attention to this issue and I look forward to joining Commissioner Farley at the upcoming conferences on Staten Island. Working with physicians and dentists, I am confident that we can make a positive difference.” 

The largest increase of opioid painkiller use was among younger New Yorkers aged 25 to 34 – a 227% increase between 2005 and 2011. Over 250,000 New Yorkers aged 12 years and older (approximately 4% of the population) report misusing prescription pain relievers, according to survey data from 2010–2011, a 33% rise since 2002–2003.

To address this growing problem, the Mayor’s Task Force on Prescription Painkiller Abuse is developing and implementing coordinated strategies for responding to the growth of opioid painkiller misuse and diversion in New York City. In its initial report released in January 2013, the Task Force issued new voluntary emergency department guidelines to encourage safe and judicious prescribing of opioid painkillers upon patient discharge. The guidelines recommend that a short course of opioid painkillers is usually sufficient for acute pain, that emergency physicians not refill lost, stolen or destroyed prescriptions, and that they do not initiate treatment with long-acting opioid painkillers. To date, 20 hospital emergency departments across New York City have adopted the guidelines, including the City’s 11 public hospitals. The Health Department has also published guidance for primary care physicians and other practitioners in outpatient offices. The Health Department will be conducting door-to-door outreach to discuss prescribing guidelines with physicians.

The Health Department will convene two conferences for physicians and dentists in Staten Island in June. The first conference is on June 5 at the Richmond University Medical Center. The second conference is on June 14 at the Staten Island University Hospital. 

To further address the problem of inappropriate opioid prescribing, the Health Department has recommended that the FDA revise opioid labeling to ensure that these drugs are marketed in a way that reflects scientific evidence on their efficacy and safety. The Health Department is also advocating that physicians who prescribe high doses receive specialized training.

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