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Press Release

Press Release # 003-14
Thursday, February 6, 2014

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

Prescription Painkiller and Heroin Overdose Deaths Continue to Rise in New York City

Health Department urges State Legislature to approve bill that would increase access to naloxone, a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses

February 6, 2014 – Following two years of increases in fatal overdoses in 2011 and 2012, the Health Department today urged the State Legislature to approve legislation that would increase access to naloxone, a drug that can reverse prescription opioid and heroin overdoses and save lives. Drug overdose is a leading cause of accidental death in New York City, with a majority involving either heroin or prescription painkillers. Overdose deaths related to prescription painkillers increased 233% between 2000 and 2012. Heroin-related overdose deaths increased 84% between 2010 and 2012 in New York City, after four years on the decline.

A bill sponsored by State Senator Kemp Hannon (S6477) and Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz (A8637) would allow trained laypeople to dispense naloxone under a prescriber’s authorization. If passed, a trained layperson could dispense naloxone to someone at risk of an overdose or to a friend or family member of that person.

“Overdose deaths have risen for two consecutive years,” said Interim Health Commissioner Daniel Kass. “Increasing access to naloxone for people most at risk may give them an opportunity for a second chance at the moment they need it. Naloxone has been proven to save lives. Expanding its access will save more. We urge the State Legislature to move swiftly and pass this legislation.” 

“The recent increase in heroin addiction and related tragedies demonstrates the urgent need for increased access to naloxone,” said Senator Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau County). “Current programs equipping EMTs with naloxone kits have proven successful, my legislation will expand upon these programs by ensuring access to potential overdose victims and their loved ones who have been trained to administer naloxone. Equipping families with this overdose antidote will enable them to save their loved one from tragic overdose deaths. I commend the Mayor and the City of New York for their support of this legislation.”

“In the last few months, and particularly in the last few days, there has been a new light shed on accidental overdoses related to opioid abuse,” Assembly Member Dinowitz said. “This legislation expands on a 2005 law I authored to establish opioid antagonists as effective treatments and will create further access to a life-saving drug that, when administered properly, is known to stop the effects of accidental overdoses. If we create more access in conjunction with ramping up outreach efforts, we can help save thousands of lives each year.

“Now is the time to take the next step in expanding access to this critical antidote. Law enforcement organizations are taking steps to train their members in administration, community based organizations are asking for help in obtaining more naloxone, and the families of victims and potential victims of accidental overdose are asking for our help.”

Prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, have similar chemical structures to heroin and all are classified as opioids. Opioid overdoses most commonly involve slowed or stopped breathing. Naloxone, if administered promptly after an overdose, reverses the overdose and restores breathing in a few seconds. Despite its benefits, naloxone is currently only accessible through New York State certified Opioid Overdose Prevention Programs. There are just 52 of these programs in New York City.

Naloxone has no known adverse side effects or potential for abuse and it has been widely used by emergency medical professionals in ambulances and emergency rooms for decades. States across the country have passed similar bills to expand access to naloxone, including California, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina and Vermont.

Since the establishment of the New York State Opioid Overdose Prevention Program in 2006, over 650 overdose reversals have been reported statewide. Increasing the availability of naloxone through the passage of bill S6477/A8637 will help prevent additional overdose deaths among New Yorkers.

To address the growing problem of prescription painkiller misuse, addiction and overdose, the City developed voluntary emergency department guidelines to encourage safe and judicious prescribing of opioid painkillers upon patient discharge. To date, 35 hospital emergency departments across New York City have adopted the guidelines. The Health Department has also published guidance for primary care physicians and other practitioners in outpatient offices, and visited health care providers on Staten Island to educate them about the guidelines. The Department recently sent a letter to all health care providers in the City about using the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program data to help identify patients with addiction and to offer treatment to these patients.

To address both the problem of prescription painkiller and heroin overdose, the Health Department distributes naloxone to community-based programs, and partners with Department of Homeless Services and New York City Police Department to distribute naloxone.

The City launched a pilot program last fall to supply police officers with naloxone on the North Shore of Staten Island to immediately reverse overdoses. The pilot was selected for Staten Island where the mortality rate from overdose is 7.4 per 100,000 compared to 2.4 per 100,000 citywide. To date, 190 officers have been trained to administer naloxone, with the first police officer-reversed overdose occurring in January 2014.

In addition, the Health Department has published guidance, sponsors trainings and provides community-based programs and health providers resources to integrate buprenorphine treatment, an effective medication for both heroin and prescription painkiller addiction.

New Yorkers can call 1-800-LIFENET for information on free and low-cost treatment for addiction. For more information, search “naloxone” at