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