In response to what it calls a problem of epidemic proportion on Staten Island, the New York City Health Department is asking doctors working there to help fight prescription drug abuse. NY1's Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.
They are powerful and sobering statistics that by now are well-known. The rate of prescription drug overdose deaths on Staten Island is four times higher than the rest of the city, and more Island residents die of overdose deaths than from car crashes and homicides combined.
"Here on Staten Island, we as physicians are prescribing too much, long durations, high doses," said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. "Exactly why, I'm not sure."
Hoping to find out why, Farley addressed a crowd of doctors Friday morning at Staten Island University Hospital.
NY1's cameras weren't allowed inside the forum, but a slideshow detailed the link between addiction and the number of prescriptions written.
Staten Island patients were written twice as many prescriptions than anywhere else in the city.
Ann Marie Perotto, whose son, Christopher, was one of 40 Staten Islanders who died of a prescription overdose in 2011, said she's not surprised.
"He was in a minor car accident and was prescribed by a doctor percocets, and he slowly but surely became addicted. quickly addicted, but the dosage became higher and higher, and the prescriptions were just there for him to get," she said.
Officials are working to change that. This August, an electronic prescription program called I-Stop, which allows for pharmacies to share prescription information with each other in real time, will go into effect throughout the state.
By next year, all scripts will be "written" electronically, which doctors say they believe will help the problem.
"There's no way to access that data bank other than you or unless you give somebody your password," said Dr. Theodore Strange, associate chair of medicine at Staten Island University Hospital. "So that, I think, is going to be the biggest win when all of this goes to an electronic format."
During the next three months, Department of Health representatives will be visiting doctor's offices all over Staten Island, offering physicians prescribing recommendations and patient education materials.
Signs will be hung in doctors' offices all over the borough, reminding patients of how to properly take painkillers and the dangers that come with them.