As the number of opioid-related deaths in New York City increased by 56 percent in the last five years, pharmacies across the five boroughs will soon offer medication without a prescription to prevent overdoses.
Most of Rite Aid's almost 100 locations will offer the medication known as naloxone — which can be either injected or inhaled nasally — that Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said can "will save more lives and reduce deaths."
CVS and other independent pharmacies will offer the medication, widely used to treat heroin overdoses, by the end of the month. The city is still in discussions with Duane Reade and Walgreens.
CVS already offered the treatment without prescriptions in 14 states, including New Jersey, as of September.
"Deaths due to overdose are completely preventable," Bassett told reporters in Staten Island on Monday. "In order to recover, you need to stay alive. Naloxone can help you do that."
There were 797 unintentional overdose deaths in the city in 2014, a slight increase from last year's 788. Some 458 of them involved heroin, and 216 involved opioid analgesics — which include painkillers such as morphine and oxycodone.
Along with increasing access to naloxone, the city is authorized 1,000 providers to offer medication designed to stop opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms, known as buprenorphine.
Staten Island resident James Brenker, 21, said he survived two overdoses at hospitals with naloxone treatment both times. Clean since 2013, Brenker went on to get his own training on how to administer the drug, training he said he used to save a friend's life.
"If I didn't have the kit right in front of me, the EMS said my friend would have died," Brenker said.
A statewide effort to equip law as many law enforcement and emergency responders with naloxone launched in 2014. The Cuomo administration provided supplies and training at no cost to various local agencies in June 2014.
Earlier that year, 19,500 NYPD officers received naloxone kits and training to treat opioid overdoses, which have hit Staten Island particularly hard.
"We really are in a battle for the lives of too many Staten Islanders," Staten Island Borough President Jimmy Oddo said in a statement.
Oddo will co-chair an ad hoc track force on heroin and opioid awareness, along with Commissioner Bassett. The group is expected to design a plan to connect patients and families affected by the drugs with more resources to prevent avoidable deaths.
On Monday, Oddo thanked the administration and supporters for the work done to reduce overdose deaths, but warned: "We have a lot of work still to do."