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Addressing the Opioid Epidemic in New York

February 14, 2019 in

New York, along with the rest of the country, is experiencing an opioid crisis. Opioids are drugs that contain opium, a painkilling substance that naturally occurs in the poppy plant. Prescription opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, oxymorphone, codeine, and fentanyl. Some illicit drugs are opioids, such as heroin. The nationwide opioid epidemic stemmed largely from patients misusing and abusing prescription opioids, then turning to heroin to feed the addiction after the expiration of their prescriptions.

Why Is Opioid Abuse So Prevalent?

From 1999 to 2017, more than 700,000 people lost their lives from drug overdoses. The rate of opioid overdose deaths has drastically increased during this time, with 2017’s death toll six times higher than in 1999. A few theories exist as to the drastic increase in opioid use and addiction in the United States over the last 18 years.

  • Increase in the number of opioid prescriptions in the U.S. In the 1990s, physicians began increasing the amounts of opioid painkillers prescribed to patients. This came from changes to related laws at the time.
  • Lack of education on opioid addiction. Many patients do not recognize or appreciate the risk of opioid addiction, and do not get this information from their doctors. They may start taking opioid pills for pain without realizing the possibility of dependence.
  • High risk of drug dependency. Opioids are powerful pain-controlling medications that alter the brain’s pain signals and run a high risk of dependency. A patient can build up a tolerance to the painkillers, experience withdrawal symptoms, and have to increase the number of pills to feel the same effects. This can lead to opioid misuse and eventually a reliance upon the drug, or addiction.

The opioid epidemic is spreading and, for the first time, individuals dying from drug overdose are not mostly in low-come areas. Middle- and upper-class individuals are also developing opioid dependencies and substance abuse disorders, often beginning with a prescription medication lawfully obtained from a physician. The same is true in the state of New York.

Statistics on Opioid Use and Misuse in New York

The New York State Department of Health is reporting all-time highs in drug overdose deaths. According to a 2017 health report, 2,185 New Yorkers died from opioid overdoses in a single year. More than half (1,408) of these deaths involved opioid pain relievers. Another 8,444 people sought emergency help for opioid overdoses in New York over the course of a year – 2,616 of which did not involve heroin.

In 2016, New York reported 66,501 unique clients admitted into treatment programs for opioid-related addictions. Nassau County, New York reported 172 opioid-related deaths, 114 involving opioid painkillers, 353 overdoses, and 186 related hospitalizations in 2016. Statistics show that between 2011 and 2015, approximately 145,000 New Yorkers per year suffered from opioid dependency.

How Is New York Addressing the Opioid Problem?

The New York State Department of Health recognizes the increase in opioid addiction, abuse, overdoses, and deaths in the state. In response, it has created education and awareness initiatives, as well as statewide prevention programs. The state’s goals include collecting and sharing data, developing health care provider training on addiction, facilitating easier access to prescription drug monitoring programs, providing resources to local communities, and creating programs to improve the effectiveness of overdose prevention efforts.

As a New Yorker, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing an opioid addiction. First, educate yourself on the risks of prescription painkiller addiction. Then, protect yourself and your family from this epidemic by turning down painkillers as much as possible. If you must take a prescription opioid, follow your doctor’s orders for taking the drug. Properly dispose of all unused opioids in designated locations throughout the state. Recognize the signs of opioid addiction and get help before it is too late.