Why Is Staten Island NYC's OD Capital?

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Pillz Killz wall mural on Staten Island (Virginia N. Sherry/Staten Island Advance)

The death on Sunday of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has brought attention to a surge in heroin use and overdose deaths. After more than 20 years of sobriety, Hoffman reportedly began using heroin last year following a bout of abusing prescription drugs. The transition between prescription pill abuse and heroin is a problem addiction specialists have been focused on for years.

In New York City, the prescription painkiller abuse rates aren't as high as the rest of the country — except on Staten Island, where their impact is wide and deep. The city's health department says three times more people overdose from painkillers there than in the rest of the city. Radio Rookie Tasina Berkey set out to find out why Staten Island is struggling. Her reporting shows it's easy for teenagers on Staten Island to get access to prescription painkillers. And increasingly, what comes next for some users is heroin. Why? Because it's cheaper.

Prescription painkillers are often referred to as "blues" by teenagers because the most popular pills come as little blue tablets. A group of Staten Island rappers wrote "My World is Blue" to show how prescription pills are really used on the island. 

A federal study reported that nearly 80 percent of people who recently started using heroin had previously used prescription pain relievers illegally. For some users, "blues" have become a gateway to heroin. From 2010-2012, heroin-involved deaths in the five boroughs increased by 84 percent, and Staten Island had a higher rate of heroin overdose deaths than any other borough in 2012.

A coalition of organizations -- from hospitals, to pharmacies, to schools -- formed a task force called Tackling Youth Substance Abuse. Check out what they're doing to combat drug abuse on Staten Island.

  • These tables show the heroin and prescription drug overdose rates across NYC — broken down by age, gender, race and neighborhood


    Produced by:

    Courtney Stein


    Kaari Pitkin


    Tasina Berkey


    More in:

    Comments [4]

    Stephen Gibney from Woodbridge, NJ (formerly of Stapleton)

    Thanks for this article and report. It makes you realize we have a lot of work to do to rescue people from the demonic grip of drug abuse. That's right, I said, demonic. Who would have thought its so bad on the Island.

    May. 14 2014 08:17 AM
    Jen from Staten island

    Little fact for ya .. The girl
    In the video with the wings is a junkie and was arrested a week later for selling blues in a huge sweep .. Way to go

    Feb. 08 2014 01:43 PM
    Corey Falls from Canada

    Staten Island is stolen land and war compensation was never paid, it was in the courts until the mid 1800's when our family ran out of money and the USA just kept throwing millions in to fight the case and delay it. It is only a small portion of the Lake family lands that were stolen, Karma's a bitch! Pay what's owed to us and we will lift the curse, simple!

    Feb. 05 2014 12:29 PM
    momof3 from Rockland

    They need PLAY and the desire to be outside in/with nature & in fresh air back in thier lives. Weather like this when I was a kid was not a news event it was FUN. Not being connected to the outdoors for kids from a very early age who do the same stuff a 40 year old does movies and restaurants at a Mall is the result. All Suburbia in general We have a large concentration of people who are all the same on the island. The different ones have moved away. I am married to a man who moved there in 1964 from Brooklyn single mother but strong ties to her husbands family and her 2 sisters, one of which had a son who is around 52 now that was into herion when he was a teen. While his cousin lived the kid life played sports catholic HS Monsignor Farrell then Cornell. Now you just have more of that type parent etc there no balance.

    Feb. 05 2014 09:12 AM

    Leave a Comment

    Email addresses are required but never displayed.

    Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
    We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.



    Supported by