Comprehensive public education campaign will focus on reducing drug overdose deaths, raising awareness about the life-saving drug naloxone and effective treatment for substance use disorders
December 12, 2016 – The Health Department today announced the “Save a Life, Carry Naloxone” campaign, the first phase of a $3 million public education effort to counter opioid overdose deaths. The campaign – mostly funded through ThriveNYC, the City’s mental health roadmap spearheaded by First Lady Chirlane McCray – will focus on reducing overdose deaths, raising awareness about the life-saving drug naloxone and promoting effective treatment for opioid use disorders. The “Save a Life” ads will launch today on digital and social media platforms, and subsequently be placed strategically in local media outlets and venues targeting neighborhoods most affected by overdose deaths. The ads will be placed in local newspapers, convenience stores, nail salons, hair salons, barbershops, and the Staten Island Ferry terminals.
“Opioid misuse is a disease that afflicts an increasing number of New Yorkers,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray, who spearheads the City’s mental health and substance misuse efforts. “As part of ThriveNYC, we have expanded access to naloxone, which can save lives after opioid overdose and is available to anyone without a prescription at 700 pharmacies, in every borough of our city. We are also expanding access to buprenorphine, a medication that stops opioid cravings and prevents withdrawal symptoms, so people can get help before an overdose. We are working hard to close treatment gaps so that New Yorkers get the help they need to live free of opioid misuse.”
“Reducing opioid-related overdose deaths is a priority for the Health Department. We want all New Yorkers to know that naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose and save a life, and it is available without a prescription at pharmacies across the city,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “Additionally, we want to increase awareness among New Yorkers about the growing and dangerous presence of fentanyl in NYC drugs. New Yorkers should also know that help is available. If you or someone you know is addicted to opioids, call 311 or contact NYC Well for free and confidential support.”
On October 17th, the Department sent out a Health Alert stating nearly half of confirmed unintentional drug overdose deaths since July 2016 involved fentanyl – a synthetic, short-acting opioid analgesic with a potency 50 to 100 times that of morphine. The increased presence of fentanyl is driving the increase in overdose death rates in the city. Fentanyl has been found in combination with heroin, opioid analgesics and cocaine overdose deaths.
Provisional data through early November show that there were 860 confirmed unintentional drug overdose deaths to date this year. Last year, there were a total of 937 confirmed unintentional overdose deaths in the five boroughs, and 80 percent of them involved an opioid. At the current rate, the city could see a record number of unintentional overdose deaths this year. In Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island, there have been more overdose deaths in 2016 than in all of 2015.
In April, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a series of initiatives to reduce drug overdose deaths, including increasing the number of naloxone kits distributed by the Health Department, from 7,000 to 14,000, training for physicians on buprenorphine, a life-saving medication used to treat opioid use disorder by stopping cravings and preventing withdrawal symptoms, and the establishment of the Nonfatal Overdose Response System, which will work with emergency departments to assign peers to follow up with people who have had non-fatal overdoses, so they are connected to services and less likely to overdose again. The Mayor’s announcement also included the expansion of the City’s harm reduction programs by 25 percent, and the creation of a “Rapid Assessment and Response” team to conduct targeted investigations and respond to overdose outbreaks, based on the model the Health Department used successfully to reduce emergency department visits related to synthetic marijuana (K2).
“Fentanyl is a synthetic killer far more lethal than any strain of heroin. The spike in overdose deaths caused by fentanyl and other opioids once again highlights the importance of education, prevention, harm reduction, and other public health efforts, including wider availability of and access to naloxone, which has proven safe, easy to administer, and effective,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried of Manhattan, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Health. “In recognition of this reality, the Health Department has vigorously promoted the availability and use of naloxone kits, encouraged people to call 911 for help without fear of legal repercussions, and expanded educational outreach to health care providers.”
“I commend First Lady Chirlane McCray and the NYC Health Department for raising awareness that naloxone is available without a prescription. Each kit used equals one life saved. It’s that simple. This campaign to get the word out equals many lives saved,” said Council Member Andrew Cohen, Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services.
“The rise in opioid overdoses is truly a public health crisis that requires bold, immediate action,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Committee on Health. “It’s going to take effective, data-driven measures, and we’ll need to use every tool at our disposal. The use of life-saving medication like naloxone is going to be key, and I’m grateful to this administration for expanding education and outreach around to this vital treatment through the Save a Life program. Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray have made unprecedented investments in combating opioid addiction, and I thank them as well as Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett and our outstanding Department of Health for being at the front lines of this vital issue.”
“Fentanyl is a medication reserved for those in severe pain and, when cut with other opioids or synthetically manufactured for recreational use, it can be life threatening. I urge New Yorkers to use this and all other pain medications responsibly and only when under strict medical care. As heroin and opioid addiction becomes even more prevalent in our communities it is imperative that naloxone be widely available and that uniformed medical and law enforcement officers become trained in its use. I thank Mayor de Blasio, First Lady Chirlane McCray, and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett for their commitment to promoting the appropriate use and prescription of pain medication and their dedication to ending the opioid epidemic,” said Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson.
The Health Department’s ongoing overdose prevention efforts include supporting syringe access programs for New Yorkers who use heroin and other drugs. In addition to providing sterile syringes, these programs provide a number of health and social services including counseling, education on reducing risks from drug use – overdose prevention trainings and naloxone distribution – and referrals to medical care and substance misuse treatment.
Furthermore, the Health Department supports evidence-based treatment programs and promotes access to treatment with buprenorphine and methadone. Although no single approach works for all individuals, people with opioid use disorder who take methadone or buprenorphine stay in treatment longer, experience relapse to other opioids less frequently, and experience greater improvements in their health and social well-being than those treated without medications. It is the most effective approach for people who want to reduce or stop their opioid use, reduce their risk of overdose, and help stabilize their lives.
For more information about opioid overdose prevention, naloxone and treatment services, search “prevent overdose” at nyc.gov.
Led by First Lady Chirlane McCray, ThriveNYC is an unprecedented strategy and set of 54 initiatives by the City to approach mental health as a comprehensive public health challenge involving many City agencies. ThriveNYC aims to change the conversation, eliminate the stigma surrounding addiction and mental illness and provide greater access to mental health care for children and adults. For more information on ThriveNYC, visit nyc.gov/thrivenyc.
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