Health Department Expands Lifesaving Opioid Overdose Response Program That Links Overdose Survivors With Peer Advocates

As part of Healing NYC, the Relay program will expand to NYU Langone network

The program dispatches “Wellness Advocates” to meet people who have had an opioid overdose in emergency departments 24/7 in order to prevent future overdoses

May 20, 2019 — As part of HealingNYC, the Health Department today announced the expansion of the Relay program to two hospitals in the NYU Langone network: NYU Langone Health-Tisch in Manhattan and NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn. With this expansion, the program serves 10 hospitals citywide. Relay focuses on people who have survived an opioid overdose and therefore are at increased risk of fatal overdose. In the hours after an overdose event, a Relay Wellness Advocate — a trained peer advocate with firsthand experience of substance use — meets the patient in the emergency department to offer overdose risk reduction counseling, opioid overdose rescue training, and a naloxone kit.

“The Relay program meets New Yorkers at very high risk of overdose death at a critical time of need,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “By offering overdose education and naloxone, referring patients to effective treatment with buprenorphine or methadone, and making connections to harm reduction programs and other social services, Wellness Advocates are keeping people who use drugs safe and preventing future overdose. We are pleased to have the NYU Langone network, which has an impressive history of treating people who use drugs.”

“We are incredibly proud to bring the Relay program to NYU Langone Health, at both our Manhattan and Brooklyn campuses. This Health Department partnership allows us to bring peer counseling to the bedside during acute overdose cases to complement our efforts in opioid abuse disorder screening, naloxone distribution, and buprenorphine induction and referral. We believe it represents a great step forward and an extremely important tool in our approach to combatting the opioid epidemic. Our clinical leadership is committed to ensuring our providers have as many tools and resources as any Medical Center in America to combat this epidemic. We also are proud to help forge a path, both locally and nationally, in research on opioid abuse and recovery, highlighted by the work of Dr. Ryan McCormack. We take very seriously our responsibility to help those in our communities suffering from devastating addiction, whether they are patients or their friends and families,” said Ian Wittman, MD, Chief of Service, The Ronald O. Perelman Department of Emergency Medicine at NYU Langone Health-Brooklyn and Clinical Associate Professor, NYU School of Medicine.

“An expanded Relay program will help those people who have survived an opioid overdose but are still at risk of overdosing in the future,” said Assistant Speaker Felix W. Ortiz. “Trained peer advocates can help patients avoid future abuse problems. I welcome this new effort at the NYU Langone Hospital in Brooklyn. Every measure we can take to help save lives makes a difference."

“The opioid epidemic touches too many lives,” said Council Member Keith Powers. “With peer advocates, those who have experienced an overdose will have an opportunity to build a positive relationship for recovery. Thank you to the Department of Health and NYU Langone for providing this valuable resource.”

Participating hospitals can contact Relay 24/7 to dispatch a Wellness Advocate to meet the patient. Wellness Advocates stay in contact with patients for up to 90 days and connect them to appropriate support services, including overdose prevention, harm reduction, substance use disorder treatment, and social services, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and emergency housing. The program has engaged 851 participants and distributed 1,308 naloxone kits between its launch in June 2017 and April 30, 2019. Relay is slated to expand to 15 hospitals by 2020. The program is part of HealingNYC, the City’s comprehensive strategy to address the opioid epidemic and save as many as 400 lives by 2022. This program is especially critical as people who survive an opioid overdose are two to three times more likely to die from fatal overdose than people who use drugs who have never overdosed.

In New York City, someone dies of a drug overdose every six hours. In 2017, there were 1,487 confirmed overdose deaths (PDF). Opioids were involved in 82 percent of New York City overdose deaths last year, and the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl was the most common drug, involved in 57 percent of deaths. From January to September 2018, there were 1,055 confirmed overdose deaths (PDF). Drug overdose death remains at epidemic levels in New York City as illicitly manufactured fentanyl continued 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.

Opioid overdose deaths are preventable, and naloxone is available to all New Yorkers who need it. All major chain pharmacies (Walgreens, Duane Reade, Rite Aid and CVS) in New York City now offer naloxone, and nearly 500 independent pharmacies citywide have agreed to dispense the medication without a patient-specific prescription. In addition to access through pharmacies citywide, naloxone is available for free from registered Opioid Overdose Prevention programs, including syringe service programs. Additionally, New York State will cover co-payments of up to $40 (PDF). The Health Department also offers regular naloxone trainings at its main office in Queens and Tremont Neighborhood Action Center in the Bronx, 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 buprenorphine or methadone is highly effective and can reduce the risk of overdose and death. 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.

If you witness an overdose, call 911 immediately.



MEDIA CONTACT: Patrick Gallahue / Stephanie Buhle: (347) 396-4177