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Heroin & Our Community

Posted Date: 5/2/2014
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By Daniel J. Messina, Ph.D., FACHE, LNHA, President & CEO

Staten Island has surpassed the rest of New York City with 10.2 fatal overdoses per 100,000 people. Heroin deaths were higher in past years on our own Mid-Island and South Shore than in any other neighborhood citywide (South Beach and Tottenville were in the top five neighborhoods in NYC).

The opioid painkiller overdose death rates in Staten Island are four times higher than Manhattan, Queens, or Brooklyn –a 261% increase since 2005. In 2012, Staten Island lost 70 residents from opioid and heroin overdose, a number we will see dramatically rise for 2013 and 2014.

With strong policies that have successfully made it more difficult to obtain prescription pills, an unintended and alarming consequence has been an increase in heroin use. Heroin has become the alternate drug to prescription opioids for addicts. The result is an intense epidemic threatening people of all ages, but especially our youth. Over a half million New Yorkers over the age of 12 report misusing prescription drugs.

Thanks to city and state elected officials, Naloxone was introduced and the intranasal drug is credited for saving lives of heroin overdoses if administered properly. The drug is now carried by police officers in Staten Island neighborhoods as part of a pilot program. I am proud to announce as of yesterday, Richmond University Medical Center’s EMTs are all equipped with Naloxone and trained to administer this life-saving medication. We are the first within New York City’s 911 system to be fully trained and carrying Naloxone, a step we took to protect our community and stem the rise of overdoses seen in our borough.

Richmond University Medical Center has made critical changes to our emergency department guidelines to minimize the number of opioid painkillers prescribed upon discharge. We have further instilled in our emergency physicians that no long-acting opioids are to be utilized unless clearly necessary for proper treatment. The new guidelines are part of the New York City Emergency Department Discharge Guidelines – the set of nine guidelines along with clinical judgment and expertise can help reverse opioid dependence and overdose.

We are currently working with all of our physicians to implement new prescribing guidelines to minimize legal access to opioids since the risk of addiction or misuse is so widespread. Through our participation in the DEA’s Drug Take Back Program, RUMC has collected more than 300 pounds of unwanted, expired, and unused prescriptions.

The Joint Senate task force is a significant step toward awareness and action. My staff at RUMC looks forward to working with everyone on this panel and with you Senator Lanza, to reverse trends and to educate Staten Island residents.

Despite recent overdoses of high profile celebrities in the media, notably actor Philip Seymor Hoffman, many residents of our Borough believe that heroin addiction cannot happen in our quiet neighborhood. It is happening here... just as it is happening even more dramatically in quiet blue collar towns in rural Vermont.

New York Times reporter, Katherine Seeley describes this crisis as a “call to arms" and a recent Rolling Stone article describes Vermont at “The new face of heroin addiction.”

Vermont’s Governor, Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State message to what he said was a “full-blown heroin crisis.” It’s critical to pay attention to Vermont as it paints a picture of the consequences of heroin addiction in a small community.

Richmond University Medical Center is committed to being part of the solution, working to educate borough residents, working with our elected officials, and acting as a resource in the development of new policy solutions that will stem the tide of heroin addiction. Treatment is available for those faced with addiction. Our Silberstein Clinic and Rehabilitation Center is available for those 18 and older, and we have a 24 hour hotline that can be called by anyone at 718-818-6300.