Relay dispatches “Wellness Advocates” who are on call 24/7 to meet with survivors of opioid overdoses at emergency departments across New York City and connect them to supportive services
People who survive an opioid overdose are two to three times more likely to have a fatal overdose than people who use drugs but have never overdosed
February 27, 2018 – As part of HealingNYC, the Health Department announced the expansion of the Relay program to St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, the fifth site since its launch in June of 2017. Relay focuses on people who survived an opioid overdose and are at high risk for a future fatal overdose. In the hours after someone survives an opioid overdose, a Relay “Wellness Advocate” – someone who has firsthand experience with substance use and is trained as a peer advocate – meets with the survivor in the hospital emergency department to offer overdose risk reduction counseling, opioid overdose rescue training and a naloxone kit. 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 connects them to services appropriate to the individual, including treatment for substance use disorders, harm reduction services, and other supportive services, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and emergency housing. The program has engaged 181 participants since its launch last June. Relay will receive $4.3 million in annual funding when it is fully expanded to 10 emergency departments in 2019. The program is under HealingNYC, the City’s comprehensive initiative to reduce opioid overdose deaths by 35 percent over five years.
“Expanding the Relay program to St. Barnabas Hospital adds more of these critical peer advocates to the Bronx, in one of the neighborhoods that needs them most,” said Dr. Herminia Palacio, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services. “Establishing more paths to recovery for NYC residents, especially those in areas hit hardest by the opioid epidemic is a core strategy of HealingNYC. With the aid of the Relay Wellness Advocates, overdose survivors in the Bronx now have an additional resource to break down barriers to treatment and turn their crisis into a new beginning.”
“We are thrilled to bring the Relay program to the South Bronx, one of the neighborhoods with the highest opioid overdose rates. In 2016, more people died in the Bronx from drug overdose than in any other borough,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “We are grateful for St. Barnabas’ partnership in launching the second Bronx Relay site to provide overdose survivors with important information and links to effective care. Connecting with individuals right after an overdose gives us the opportunity to offer services that can potentially save their lives.”
“The community that we serve has been significantly impacted by the opioid crisis. The Relay program offers a unique opportunity to make a difference to this vulnerable population, helping not only the patients, but also friends and family affected by the epidemic,” said Dr. Howard Greller, Director of Medical Toxicology at SBH Health System (St. Barnabas Hospital). “Studies have shown that people who survive an opioid overdose are two to three times more likely to have another, fatal overdose, than someone who hasn’t. We’re hopeful that participating in Relay can save lives in our community."
“With one of the highest drug overdose incidence rates in New York City, the South Bronx is particularly vulnerable to the devastating effects that the growing opioid epidemic is having in America. NYC Health Department’s opening of a second Relay program in the Bronx at the St. Barnabas hospital will help ensure South Bronx residents have access to effective care and counseling immediately following a drug overdose episode. Combined with initiatives to expand access to naloxone in New York City at a low rate or for free, this clinic will help reduce opioid and drug use in our community and the rest of New York City,” said Congressman José E. Serrano.
“The Bronx has been severely impacted by the opioid epidemic and we need all the resources we can get to prevent overdose deaths in our community,” said Senator Gustavo Rivera. “This program will provide those who are most at risk of dying from an overdose with resources and support to prevent a tragedy. I thank the NYC Department of Health and the SBH Health System for implementing the Relay program in our community and providing those struggling with addiction access to Wellness Advocates.”
“I am pleased to see the expansion of the Relay program in New York City, and especially to an area so hard hit by this epidemic,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF- Manhattan), Chair of the New York State Assembly Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. “Ensuring that anyone who survives an overdose is immediately connected to longer- term treatment and recovery is imperative in preventing future relapse. Individuals suffering from substance use disorder are at their most vulnerable in the hours after an overdose, and building out access to programs like Relay and supervised consumption sites will save lives.”
“My work through Relay is very important to me,” said Hector Cruz, Relay Wellness Advocate. “I assist people in a crucial time of need and empower those who experience a non- fatal opioid overdose. Relay offers a new way of assisting individuals, families, and communities alike that have been impacted by the opioid epidemic.”
In New York City, 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 those deaths. From January to September 2017, there were 1,068 confirmed drug overdose deaths in New York City. The number of drug overdoses remains at epidemic levels as illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a potent opioid, continues to be present in the drug supply. Fentanyl has been found in heroin,
cocaine, methamphetamine, and ketamine, as well as in benzodiazepines and opioid painkillers acquired from non-pharmaceutical sources.
Between 2000 and 2016, more than 2,800 residents of the Bronx died from drug overdose. During the past six years, overdose rates among Bronx residents have more than doubled. In 2016, Bronx residents 45 to 54 years old had the highest overdose death rate, followed by residents aged 55 to 64 years old. Overdose rates among residents aged 55 to 64 years old increased 29 percent from 2015 to 2016. Hispanic/Latino Bronx residents had the highest number of drug overdose deaths in 2016 (161 deaths), followed by Black residents (86 deaths), and White residents (55 deaths).
Opioid overdose deaths are preventable. New Yorkers can purchase naloxone without a patient- specific 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. Additionally, New York State will cover co-payments of up to $40. Naloxone is also available for free from registered Opioid Overdose Prevention Programs. The Health Department also offers regular naloxone trainings at its main office in Queens, 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. 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.
Treatment with methadone or buprenorphine is highly effective for opioid addiction 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.
If you experience or witness an overdose, call 911 immediately.
MEDIA CONTACT: Christopher Miller/Stephanie Buhle: (347) 396-4177, PressOffice@health.nyc.gov