New York City Prescription Opioid Overdoses On The Rise
February 3, 2013

Opioid Overdose Fatality Rates On The Rise In New York City

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The number of New York City residents who died as a result of prescription opioid overdose was seven times higher in 2006 than it was just 16 years earlier, according to a new Columbia University study.

As part of the study, which is detailed in the latest edition of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, lead author Dr. Magdalena Cerdá, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the university´s Mailman School of Public Health, and colleagues reviewed records from New York City´s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner from 1990 through 2006.

“The researchers examined the factors associated with death from prescription opioids versus heroin, which historically has been the most common type of opioid fatality in urban areas,” Columbia officials explained Sunday in a statement.

“They found that the increase in the rate of drug overdose was driven entirely by analgesic overdoses, which were 2.7 per 100,000 persons in 2006 or seven times higher than in 1990,” they added. “Meanwhile, methadone overdoses remained stable, and heroin overdoses declined.”

White males were far more likely than Latinos or African-Americans to overdose on drugs like oxycodone and methadone, the researchers discovered. By 2006, the fatality rate among Caucasian men was twice that of Hispanics and three-times that of blacks, they added, while most of the deaths took place in neighborhoods that had high-income inequality rates but below-average poverty rates.

"A possible reason for the concentration of fatalities among whites is that this group is more likely to have access to a doctor who can write prescriptions," Cerdá said. "However, more often than not, those who get addicted have begun using the drug through illicit channels rather than through a prescription."

Methadone overdose rates did not increase, but fatalities among whites jumped nearly nine-fold while decreasing by 2-percent among blacks, the researchers discovered. They believe that those figures could be the result of a shift away from methadone use as a treatment for heroin addiction and towards a medication used to treat chronic pain caused by non-cancer related ailments.

“The study suggests that the profile of a recreational prescription opioid user is very different from the heroin consumer, with less involvement in street-based forms of drug-trafficking and use of other drugs such as cocaine,” the statement said. “Because of the different demographics between heroin and prescription opioid users, a different public health approach is needed to target the latter group.”

“Over the last 20 years, prescription drug overdoses have risen dramatically in the U. S. By 2006, overdose fatalities exceeded the number of suicides, and by 2009, they exceeded the number of motor vehicle deaths,” it added. “Most studies on recreational opioid use have focused on rural areas, which have been hit the hardest by the epidemic, but this study suggests that urban areas are contending with a growing health burden from opioid use.”