STATEN ISLAND — An anti-overdose medication will be sold without a prescription at city pharmacies in an effort to curb the rising number of opioid deaths.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and first lady Chirlane McCray announced naloxone — which essentially reverses the effect of an overdose — will be sold in about 190 pharmacies in the city as part of an initiative to combat prescription drug and heroin addiction in the five boroughs.
"Finally people will be able to get naloxone easily and at the same place where they already get medications to treat diabetes, heart trouble and other recognized diseases," McCray said during an event on Staten Island, a borough with a major opioid addiction problem.
"Making naloxone available brings us one big step closer to changing the way we think about mental illness and the way we deliver services."
The drug, which will be sold for about $50 for two doses, will be available starting Monday in all 157 Rite Aids across the city and 33 locally owned pharmacies, with plans to expand it to CVS and other spots, Department of Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said.
"Most overdoses are witnessed," Bassett said.
"I want anyone who uses or anyone who spends time around someone who uses to have naloxone on hand. That's the way you can save a life and give a person a chance to recover."
Aside from making the drug available in pharmacies, the city will also set up a dedicated fund to provide 7,000 free naloxone kits to community-based organizations and launch an effort to add 1,000 new providers that can prescribe the hard-to-find buprenorphine — which treats opioid addictions — starting next year.
De Blasio also announced the launch of the "Mayor’s Heroin and Prescription Opioid Public Awareness Task Force," co-chaired by Staten Island Borough President James Oddo and Bassett, which aims to increase awareness of addiction services in the city.
Staten Island has been in the throes of a prescription pill and heroin epidemic. The borough had the highest rate of unintentional overdose deaths from the drugs in the city between 2000 and 2014, according to data released by the DOH on Monday.
In 2014, 73 people died from prescription pill overdoses in Staten Island — up from 63 in 2013 — and 42 died from heroin ODs, up from 32 in 2013, according to the DOH.
Naloxone, which can be administered nasally or like an EpiPen, can be easily administered by people, has no known harmful side effects and isn't addictive, Bassett said.
In 2014, all police officers and EMT in Staten Island were equipped with naloxone after a successful pilot program in the 120th Precinct. The program was eventually expanded to include all NYPD officers.
NYPD officers in Staten Island have used naloxone 40 times since the program started. It has been credited with saving 38 lives, Assistant Chief Edward Delatorre said.
Aside from increasing access to naloxone, elected representatives and law enforcement officials have started several programs to combat addiction in the borough, including "Operation Youth First," which targets intoxicated minors who aren't breaking any laws and puts their parents in touch with service providers.
On Monday, Delatorre said the pilot program was having trouble getting off the ground because of pushback from some parents.
"We're struggling with that a little bit. We're still getting a lot of pushback from parents, a lot of denial, a lot of 'not my child,'" Delatorre said.
"We're going to keep pushing until we break that barrier as well."