Hospital-based Overdose Prevention Program Expands

Relay is a nonfatal overdose response initiative that has served over 6,000 people in emergency departments since it launched in 2017

People who have experienced a nonfatal overdose are two to three times more likely to have a fatal overdose than people who use drugs but have never overdosed

November 2, 2023 — The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced the expansion of the Relay nonfatal overdose response initiative to Brookdale Hospital Medical Center this week. The Relay program supports people who have experienced a nonfatal overdose by sending a peer Wellness Advocate to participating emergency departments to provide support, overdose risk reduction education, and naloxone.

“The scale of the overdose crisis is unprecedented, and we must seize every opportunity to reach people with lifesaving resources,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan. “Responding to non-fatal overdoses with care, compassion and action is critical to saving lives. Relay is a proven model that reaches people at a critical crossroads, and that can put people on a pathway toward better, healthier and longer lives.”

“Intervening at the moment of a nonfatal overdose is critical,” said Executive Deputy Commissioner Deepa Avula. “Expanding to Brookdale Hospital marks an important step in decreasing overdoses in the surrounding community and offers individuals continued overdose prevention and care.”

“Those who survive an opioid overdose can feel scared and vulnerable afterwards,” said Wellness Advocate for Relay, Herbert Lane. “It’s a critical moment to be engaged by a peer who will listen without judgement about what the person is going through and connect them to information and services to prevent another overdose. Relay provides that support from Wellness Advocates who work in hospital emergency departments 24/7 to support them immediately after their overdose and for up to 90 days.”

“We are delighted to partner with the NYC DOHMH to equip our community with the resources and support needed to prevent the fatal consequences of substance misuse and provide access to evidence-based prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery services,” said Dr. Nicholas Vaccari, Chairman of Emergency Room Services at OBH Brookdale Hospital.

Brookdale Hospital Medical Center—the 15th hospital to participate in the Relay Program—serves Brownsville, East New York and the surrounding neighborhoods. In 2022, East New York had a rate of 49.9 overdose deaths per 100,000 residents, compared to the citywide rate of 43.3 per 100,000.

Participating hospitals can contact Relay at any time and a Wellness Advocate is immediately sent to the ED to engage individuals who have experienced a nonfatal overdose. Wellness Advocates stay in contact with Relay participants for up to 90 days and connect them to appropriate services, including overdose prevention, harm reduction, substance use disorder treatment and social services.

Between the program’s launch in June 2017 and December 2022, Relay has offered services to over 6,600 eligible participants in the ED and distributed more than 6,500 naloxone kits to participants and their networks. Approximately half of the individuals who received naloxone from a Wellness Advocate had never received a kit before, indicating that Relay plays a critical role in providing services to people who are not engaged with the harm reduction and substance use disorder treatment systems.

Overdose deaths in New York City continue to rise. In 2022, 3,026 people died of an overdose in New York City, a 12% increase from 2,668 individuals in 2021 and the highest number since the Health Department began reporting overdose deaths in 2000.

Expanding Relay services is a core component of Care, Community, Action: A Mental Health Plan for New York City, which includes goals to reduce overdose deaths by 25% by 2035 and improve the quality of life for people who use drugs in New York City.

Additional strategies from the city to reduce the risk of overdose death, particularly in neighborhoods with the highest overdose death rates, include expanding naloxone distribution and overdose prevention center services, and responding to the risks of an unregulated drug supply through the Health Department’s five drug-checking sites and fentanyl test strip distribution program.

Reducing overdose deaths and increasing access to quality treatment and recovery services are also key to HealthyNYC, which is the city’s plan to extend the average life expectancy of New Yorkers to 83 years by 2030.



MEDIA CONTACT: Patrick Gallahue/Rachel Vick