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NYC Deaths from Prescription Painkiller Overdoses Rose by 65 Percent in Just Six Years

Update Date: May 15, 2013 12:35 PM EDT
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New York City is attempting to do more to combat prescription painkiller abuse in light of new data that has found that prescription painkiller deaths have skyrocketed over the course of just six years.

In total, the report has found that the number of prescription painkiller prescriptions, most commonly oxycodone, has increased from 1.6 million in 2005 to 2.2 million in 2011. In fact, 53 percent of these prescriptions were written for oxycodone. While many people do need the use of medication to properly manage pain, long-term use of the drug can lead to addiction and fatal overdose. In New York City, the rate of overdose deaths as a result of prescription painkillers has increased by 65 percent. Though increases have occurred across all five boroughs, the skyrocketing increase has been led by the borough of Staten Island, where overdose deaths caused by taking prescription painkillers increased by 261 percent.

The prescription painkiller overdose epidemic hitting New York City has not hit all communities equally. In New York City, 60 percent of prescription painkiller overdose deaths have occurred in neighborhoods where poverty levels are low or medium. These overdose deaths occurred most frequently among White New Yorkers, occurring three times more often to White New Yorkers than to Latino New Yorkers and four and a half times often than to Black New Yorkers. Men were more likely to be affected as well; men were three times as likely to die from such overdoses than women were. While New Yorkers between the ages of 45 and 54 were most likely to die from one of these overdoses, 25- to 34-year-olds saw the largest increases: 227 percent greater young adults in this age group died from prescription painkiller overdoses in 2011 than in 2005.

"[Prescription opioids] are chemically and biologically very similar to heroin and, like heroin, can lead to addiction and fatal overdose," Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said in a statement. "Physicians and patients need to know the potential dangers of using these drugs."

Gothamist reports that the city's Department of Health is hosting two conferences on the subject in Staten Island for doctors and dentists. A city initiative that cut the number of days for which doctors can prescribe painkillers to emergency room patients has been adopted by 11 hospitals so far this year.

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