As Part of HealingNYC, Health Department Expands Opioid Overdose Program “Relay” To Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn

Relay dispatches “Wellness Advocates” who are on call 24/7 to meet with survivors of opioid overdoses at the emergency department and connect them to supportive services

People who have survived an opioid overdose are at two to three times more likely to experience a fatal overdose than people who use drugs but have not experienced an overdose

In four months, Relay has served 92 participants in the Bronx, Staten Island, and Manhattan

October 26, 2017 – As part of HealingNYC, the Health Department announced the expansion of the Relay program to Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. In the hours after someone survives an opioid overdose, a Relay “Wellness Advocate” – someone with personal experience using opioids who is trained as a peer advocate – meets with the survivor in the hospital emergency department to offer support, including overdose risk reduction counseling, opioid overdose rescue training and how to use naloxone. Participating hospitals can contact Relay at any hour of the day, any day of the week, and a Wellness Advocate will arrive within the hour. The Wellness Advocate stays in contact with the person for up to 90 days and offers connection to harm reduction programs; drug treatment, such as methadone or buprenorphine; and supportive services, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and emergency housing. People who have survived an opioid overdose are at two to three times more likely to experience a fatal overdose than people who use drugs but have not experienced an overdose. In four months, the programs at the Richmond University Medical Center in Staten Island, Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, and New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center in Washington Heights have engaged 92 participants. In choosing where to launch Relay, the Health Department has focused on hospitals in neighborhoods with high rates of opioid overdose. Relay will receive $4.3 million in annual funding from the City after it expands to 10 emergency departments by 2019. The program is under HealingNYC, the City’s comprehensive initiative to reduce opioid overdose deaths by 35 percent over five years.

“For those who have survived an opioid overdose, the first few hours when they are so vulnerable, can be the most daunting. The presence of a Relay Wellness Advocate - someone who has personally overcome substance misuse – gives hope and strength to a survivor. By encouraging relationships with trained peer advocates, Relay guarantees the nurturing support that our loved ones deserve,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray, who leads the City’s mental health and substance misuse efforts.

“With the Relay program expanding into Maimonides Medical Center, New York City now has more paths to recovery for residents wrestling with opioid addiction,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Dr. Herminia Palacio. “Addressing this epidemic requires various strategies and approaches, such as this program. Through HealingNYC, Relay Wellness Advocates can meet New Yorkers at a moment of deep crisis and help them forge a path towards healing.”

“As part of HealingNYC, the Relay program offers overdose survivors judgement-free support from peers who understand opioid misuse from personal experience,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “Overdose survivors are at a high risk of experiencing a fatal overdose. The hours after an overdose are a window of opportunity to offer support and prevent future overdoses.”

“Maimonides Medical Center is pleased to join this important work to combat the opioid overdose crisis that is gripping our city and our nation,” said Kenneth Gibbs, Maimonides Medical Center President & CEO. “The HealingNYC program is bringing needed services to the most vulnerable—which is precisely what all hospitals aspire to achieve every day.”  

“Our team in the Emergency Department at Maimonides is in the front lines of the battle against opioid overdose deaths,” said John Marshall, MD, Chair of Emergency Medicine at Maimonides Medical Center. “We’re honored to partner with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to bring ‘RELAY’ services to Brooklyn—a program that has already made a difference for scores of patients.”

“Changing a near death experience from a non-fatal overdose to a path of healing, recovery and a longer life is what Relay offers,” said Relay Wellness Advocate Robert Fagan. “As a Wellness Advocate, utilizing my lived experience has been a great asset in helping others believe that recovery from addiction is possible and there is hope to transcend those adversities and obstacles for a better lifestyle.”

“I’m glad to have met my Wellness Advocate, Robert Fagan,” said Jorge Alicea, a Relay participant. “He showed me all the ways I can get a better life for my future and my wife. From 1 to 100, I give Relay a 1,000. I really appreciate all of the things this program did for me and all of the doors it opened for me. They received me like family; like a normal person.”

"I commend the City for expanding the Relay program to Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park," said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams. The stories and support shared by Wellness Advocates, who have personal experiences with opioids, will help reduce the intensity of this public health crisis that is ripping families apart with deadly consequences. To combat the opioid epidemic, we need awareness, compassion, and grassroots outreach; that's what this expansion will advance in Brooklyn."

“Heroin and opioid abuse is sweeping the country, and the unfortunate price is being paid in an unprecedented number of cases in New York City," said Assistant Speaker Felix W. Ortiz. "I am pleased that Maimonides is expanding its efforts to fight this epidemic through the Relay Program where peer advocates can help those in the most need of assistance.”

"The opioid epidemic has hit every community across New York and dedicating city resources to make sure we save lives from this terrible disease is a most admirable cause," said Assemblymember Robert Carroll‎.

The number of drug overdoses in New York City remains at epidemic levels as the illicitly manufactured fentanyl – a potent opioid – continues to be present in the drug supply. Fentanyl has been found in heroin and cocaine as well as in benzodiazepines and opioid analgesics acquired from unregulated labs. Citywide, someone dies of a drug overdose every seven hours. In 2016, there were 1,374 confirmed overdose deaths; opioids were found in 82 percent of deaths, and fentanyl was involved in 44 percent of deaths. From January to June 2017, there were 711 confirmed drug overdose deaths in New York City. The Health Department is now posting quarterly drug overdose death reports online.

Opioid overdose deaths are preventable. New Yorkers can purchase naloxone – a medication that reverses overdoses from opioids – without a prescription at over 700 pharmacies throughout the city, including all major chain pharmacies (Walgreens, Duane Reade, Rite Aid and CVS). At least one form of naloxone is covered by most insurance plans, including Medicaid. Naloxone is also available for free from registered Opioid Overdose Prevention Programs. The Health Department offers regular naloxone trainings, which teach New Yorkers to recognize the signs of an overdose and respond by calling 911 and administering naloxone. The trainings are free, and all participants are offered a free naloxone kit.

Treatment with methadone or buprenorphine is also highly effective and can reduce the risk of overdose. Individuals seeking support or treatment for substance use issues for themselves or their loved ones can contact NYC Well by calling 1-888-NYC-WELL, texting “WELL” to 65173 or going to nyc.gov/nycwell. Free, confidential support is available at any hour of the day in over 200 languages.

This past March, Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray announced HealingNYC, the City’s comprehensive initiative to reduce opioid overdose deaths by 35 percent over five years. Through HealingNYC, the Administration is investing $38 million annually at full ramp-up to increase overdose prevention education and naloxone distribution, expand access to medication-assisted treatment and promote judicious opioid prescribing. The Health Department has distributed over 45,000 naloxone kits so far in calendar year 2017. The Health Department also conducts regular community trainings, open to all, and provides naloxone kits free-of-charge.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Christopher Miller/Stephanie Buhle, (347) 396-4177
pressoffice@health.nyc.gov