The Rockaway peninsula has the third highest prescription drug overdose death rate in the city, according to a new study released by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The study, which was conducted over the course of 2008 and 2009, shows that an average of 5.4 out of every 100,000 Rockaway and Broad Channel residents died of unintentional prescription drug overdose over the course of those years. The drugs involved in the overdoses typically include prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, codeine and hydrocondone. In 2009 these drugs were responsible for 25 percent of unintentional drug poisoning deaths, the study shows. Pills such as these possess narcotic elements similar to opiates found in naturally grown opium. The city-wide death rate has increased by 20 percent since 2004.
The problem is growing in the adolescent community as well. Included in the study is a survey conducted by the New York State Office of Alcohol Substance Abuse Services across New York City in 2008. It reported that 10 percent of students in grades seven through 12 admitted to non-medical use of prescription painkillers at least once in their lifetime.
The study also shows a greater problem in middle to higher income neighborhoods. Seven in every 10 prescription drug deaths occurred in these neighborhoods. Rockaway was listed in the middle of four Staten Island neighborhoods, comprising the five areas of the city with the highest death rates associated with prescription drugs. Staten Island’s death rate from prescription drugs in 2009 was more than double any other borough in the city, even Queens. In Staten Island 7.4 people out of every 100,000 residents died from prescription drug overdoses.
Many health officials believe that one of the most accessible methods for teens and adults alike to abuse prescription drugs is via a doctor’s prescription. The pills remain in the home and are then taken for reasons other than for that which they were medically prescribed. Therefore, it may come as no surprise to some that most of the Staten Island neighborhoods that top the death rate list also rank the highest in the city for the number of hydrocodone and oxycodone prescriptions filled.
Rockaway, however, despite having the third highest death rate over 2008 and 2009, didn’t appear anywhere near the top of the list for the number of prescriptions written by doctors as did the Staten Island neighborhoods. This leads health officials to believe that the drugs on the peninsula are being illegally obtained on the street by sources other than one’s own medicine cabinet.
Last week representatives from Peninsula Hospital Center met with attendees of the 100 Precinct Community Council meeting to address the issue and answer questions after the Council received numerous complaints from concerned families about the abuse of prescription drugs among teenagers.