Health Department Expands Public Education about the Opioid Overdose Epidemic; Launches “Living Proof” Campaign Featuring New Yorkers Recovering From Opioid Addiction

The Department increases public education funding by $3 million, for a total of $4.3 million in Fiscal Year 2018, to continue to raise awareness about the opioid epidemic and promote medication for opioid addiction treatment

More than 43,000 New Yorkers received buprenorphine or methadone treatment for opioid addiction last year

asthma daily medicationNovember 22, 2017 – As part of HealingNYC, today the Health Department announced an additional $3 million to expand public education about the opioid overdose epidemic and the effectiveness and availability of medication for opioid addiction treatment and preventing overdose in New York City. In total, the City has allocated $4.3 million in Fiscal Year 2018 (July 1, 2017 - June 30, 2018) in public education campaigns aimed at preventing drug overdose deaths. The Department also announced a new public awareness campaign, “Living Proof that Opioid Addiction Treatment with Methadone and Buprenorphine Works,” featuring New Yorkers who are receiving methadone or buprenorphine medication to treat their addiction. The campaign will run on television, social media, LinkNYC, in newspapers, and bus shelters. Additionally, the Department published its first Epi Data Brief on medications for opioid addiction treatment. Last year, more than 43,000 New Yorkers received medication treatment for opioid addiction; about 30,000 New Yorkers received methadone and another 13,600 received buprenorphine. These medications are the most effective way to treat heroin and other opioid addiction. Addiction is a chronic condition. Both buprenorphine and methadone reduce withdrawal symptoms, opioid cravings and the risk of overdose.

HealingNYC is the City’s comprehensive initiative to reduce opioid overdose deaths by 35 percent over five years. This initiative increases overdose prevention education and naloxone distribution, expands access to medication for addiction treatment and promotes judicious opioid prescribing. The full Epi Data Brief is available here; the four videos can be found here, and the print ads can be found here.

“As our City strives to significantly reduce overdose-related deaths, we want every New Yorker struggling with substance misuse to know that there is always hope and there is always help,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray, who leads the City’s mental health and substance misuse efforts. “The Health Department’s bold new ad campaign, ‘Living Proof,’ highlights the most effective medications for treating opioid addiction and New Yorkers who are benefiting from them. We hope these ads will spark the open and honest conversations about substance misuse that we must have to dismantle the misconceptions and stigma that prevent too many people from seeking treatment.”

“Using medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders has the most proven positive outcomes for patients – and New York City has treatment slots available now for those who need care,” said Dr. Herminia Palacio, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services. “When prescribed properly, methadone and buprenorphine enable patients to engage more fully in all aspects of recovery, including employment and education, and strengthen their relationships with family, friends, and their communities.”

“Opioid overdoses are preventable, and New Yorkers can use methadone and buprenorphine to treat their opioid addiction,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “Thousands of New Yorkers are taking methadone or buprenorphine to restore their lives to their full potential and reduce their risk of overdose. If you or someone you know wants treatment for opioid addiction, help is available.”

“Raising awareness about the efficacy of methadone and buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid use disorders is a critical component in the fight against the opioid epidemic,” said Sarah Church, PhD, Executive Director, Montefiore’s Division of Substance Abuse, and Assistant Professor, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “We are honored to support the Health Department’s continued efforts to increase public awareness about treatments that save lives.” 

“I see people who are treated for opioid addiction with methadone or buprenorphine change their lives in front of my eyes,” said Chinazo Cunningham, M.D, Associate Chief, General Internal Medicine, Montefiore Health System, and Professor, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “I'm always happy to partner with the NYC DOHMH, which is a strong advocate for evidence-based treatment. These efforts are life-saving to the people of New York City.”

Epi Data Brief highlights


  • In 2016, 13,612 New Yorkers filled at least one prescription for buprenorphine. One in three New Yorkers who received buprenorphine in 2016 were new to buprenorphine treatment.
  • New Yorkers ages 45 to 54 filled buprenorphine prescriptions at the highest rate, followed by New Yorkers ages 35 to 44 and New Yorkers ages 25 to 34.
  • The rate of Staten Island residents who filled buprenorphine prescriptions was three to five times higher than residents of all other boroughs in 2016, explained by the limited methadone access in the borough.
  • The number of patients filling prescriptions for buprenorphine increased 75 percent between 2008 and 2016, from 7,774 to 13,612 patients.


  • In 2016, there were approximately 30,000 New Yorkers in methadone treatment, one-third of whom were new to methadone in 2016.
  • Over half (55 percent) of methadone patients were over 45 years old.
  • In 2016, Bronx residents had the highest rate of methadone treatment, as well as the highest rate of patients newly enrolled in methadone treatment.

Ad campaign stories

  • “Of all the treatments I’ve tried, buprenorphine is the only thing that worked for my opioid addiction. Now I’m in school, I go out to eat, to the movies – simple stuff – but the greatest joy is having a relationship with my daughters. I got back my life.” – Chelle
  • “I started using heroin when I was 20. I went from once in a while to every day. When you wake up sick from withdrawal, all other needs and responsibilities are subordinate. It’s only through methadone treatment that I was able to stop. Today, life is centered on my kids, my family, and my music. Methadone made it possible.” – Erik
  • “I had a horrible addiction to heroin. I didn’t really care if I lived or died. My family wanted me to change, but I didn’t know how. I started methadone treatment. It’s medicine. It helped me stop craving and taking drugs. Today I have my family. Every Sunday I cook at home. My kids and grandkids come to visit. Thanks to methadone treatment, I’m living life.” – Camille
  • “When I was 15 years old, I started using heroin and freebasing crack. That was the beginning of a very bad life. I was living on the street in a cardboard box. I started methadone treatment. It gave me the strength to say, ‘you can.’ Now I have an apartment, a job, friends, and a girlfriend.” – Melvin

In New York City, there is no waiting list for methadone treatment. In 2016, there were 69 certified methadone treatment programs in New York City with a capacity to dispense methadone to approximately 32,000 patients. Since 2002, buprenorphine has been approved for treatment of opioid addiction. In 2016, a total of 1,861 prescribers wrote 107,867 buprenorphine prescriptions. From 2008 to 2016, the rate of buprenorphine prescriptions filled increased by 145 percent, and the number of prescribers increased by 16 percent.

In order to prescribe buprenorphine, clinicians require additional training. From January to October 2017, the Health Department conducted 12 buprenorphine trainings, including two on-site at NYC Health + Hospitals locations. As a result, more than 350 additional clinicians across New York City are now trained to prescribe buprenorphine. The Health Department also has funded seven Federally Qualified Health Centers to begin offering buprenorphine in primary care clinics.

“Opioid abuse is a public health emergency that’s impacting communities across the country, including families in Queens and the Bronx,” said Congressman Joe Crowley. “The HealingNYC initiative is the type of comprehensive approach we need to stem the tide against this growing epidemic. I applaud the Health Department for allocating additional resources for this vital program and for launching a new public awareness campaign aimed at preventing overdoses across the city. The more New Yorkers are informed, the better our chances are of saving lives.”

“Too many lives have been lost to the deadly opioid epidemic,” said Congressman Dan Donovan. “Rehabilitation programs are critical to helping New Yorkers struggling with substance abuse, and I applaud the Health Department’s newest initiative to break and prevent the cycle of addiction. There is still a lot of work to be done to turn the tide on this crisis, and I will continue to work in Congress to ensure that our community has the federal resources needed to assist with education, treatment and enforcement efforts.”

 “Tragically, too many New Yorkers are suffering from the dark reality of opioid addiction,” said Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. “Across all levels of government, we must increase funding and awareness to combat this public health crisis. I commend First Lady McCray, Mayor de Blasio and Health Commissioner Bassett for dedicating additional resources to provide New Yorkers with the counseling, medication and comprehensive treatment they need to live a healthy life.”  

“Opioid addiction and misuse are a deepening public health crisis that requires action from all of us,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams. “I commend the City for working to combat this epidemic with additional HealingNYC investment in public education and advertising on public transportation, which will hopefully make a meaningful impact on many people in Brooklyn. Everyone should be aware of the availability and effectiveness of lifesaving buprenorphine and methadone treatment.”

“Last year 1,374 New Yorkers suffered fatal heroin and opioid overdoses in New York City, with the highest rate of these tragedies happening in the South Bronx portion of my district,” said Senator Jose M. Serrano. “It is critical that we expand outreach and education about the opioid epidemic in order to save lives and let individuals suffering from addiction know that there is help available to them. Many thanks to the NYC Health Department for continuing to save lives by promoting effective treatments for heroin and opioid addiction in our communities.”

“There are no easy fixes when addressing an opioid epidemic that has ravaged communities across the state and country. We need to emphasize and expand strategies that work, like medication assisted treatment, while fighting to implement  innovative solutions, such as supervised injection facilities, that will save lives and bring desperately needed support,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF- Manhattan), Chair of the New York State Assembly Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. “When an epidemic lays waste to our communities with the ferocity of the opioid epidemic, we need to act aggressively, and take our lead from the data that shows what truly works. I am pleased that New York City is continuing to bring attention to this crisis, and is fighting for solutions that work.”

“Having faced my own struggle with addiction, I know how important it is to believe you can get better,” said City Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Health Committee. “Telling the stories of those who have overcome opioid addiction through treatment will inspire others currently struggling with that same addiction to do the same. I’d like to thank First Lady Chirlane McCray for consistently helping New Yorkers who need her the most.”

“New York City is taking important steps to fight the opioid epidemic by providing residents with resources and education,” said Council Member Andrew Cohen. “Spreading awareness of medication-assisted treatment and where to find it, will help prevent overdose deaths and give those struggling with an opioid addiction a chance to get their life back.“

“We see firsthand everyday how the Bronx is ground zero for the opioid epidemic,” said Council Member Rafael Salamanca. “We need resources, training, education and treatment, and I’m committed to working with the First Lady, the Mayor and anyone else who has a solution to what is a very serious and often tragic problem.”

“As a primary care doctor, there is no other medication I prescribe that has such a dramatically positive impact on the health and lives of my patients than buprenorphine,” said Jennifer McNeely, MD, MS, Associate Professor of Population Health and Medicine, NYU School of Medicine. “The stigma surrounding addiction can sometimes keep people who use drugs from getting good care. But all of us – including patients, families, physicians, and addiction treatment providers – should view medication for addiction treatment as nothing less than highly effective, evidence based, first-line treatment for people with opioid use disorder.”

Since the launch of HealingNYC, the Health Department has run two citywide public awareness campaigns in print, social media, and on TV: Overdose is Preventable” and “I Saved a Life.” In May, the Health Department released Stop OD NYC, a free mobile app that shows how to recognize and prevent opioid overdoses, helps users find naloxone at programs or pharmacies nearby, and allows reporting of naloxone administration. In May, the Health Department’s Medical Reserve Corps distributed approximately 20,000 health alert flyers on the dangers of fentanyl and the importance of risk reduction measures to prevent overdose. The flyers were distributed in English and Spanish to New Yorkers in 62 locations, in 15 neighborhoods across the five boroughs.

The number of drug overdoses in New York City remains at epidemic levels as fentanyl – a highly potent synthetic opioid – continues to be present in the illicit drug supply. Fentanyl has been found in heroin and cocaine, as well as in counterfeit benzodiazepines and opioid analgesics. 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.

Information on where to access methadone or buprenorphine treatment in New York City can be found here. 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 Free, confidential support is available at any hour of the day in over 200 languages.



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