Fred Mogul, Reporter, WNYC News
Fred Mogul has been covering healthcare and medicine for WNYC since 2002.
Prescription drug overdoses have increased dramatically in recent years in New York City — but at a slower rate than the rest of the country.
Local emergency room visits associated with painkillers, such as Vicodin and Oxycontin climbed 79 percent from 2004 to 2009. Nationwide, that increase was 141 percent.
E.R. visits related to benzodiazepines — the class of anti-depression drugs that includes Xanax – increased 60 percent in New York City during that same period — compared with 120 percent.
Dr. Adam Karpati, from the city Health Department, said even though the overall abuse rates of these drugs is lower and climbing more slowly than elsewhere, the trend is still worrisome.
“We’re trying to get ahead of the curve before it comes here,” Karpati said, noting there is no clear explanation why overdoses apparently are less frequent here.
He also said in some areas of the city it’s much worse than others.
“On Staten Island, some of the rates start to approach national ones,” he said. The reasons for this, too, are unclear.
The Health Department recently released guidance to local physicians to use more restraint in prescribing the drugs, and closer examinations of their patients’ histories.
There is also a state-wide registry, Karpati said, that, in theory, records all or most patients on painkillers, but in practice is not widely used.
“It’s really targeting a relatively narrow population that may be misusing these prescriptions, but what we need to do is make it much more commonly used by prescribers about when and to whom and how much to prescribe,” Karpati said.