State Health Department Launches Media Campaign to Increase Public Awareness about Prescription Opioid Addiction

ALBANY, N.Y. (Dec. 29, 2009)– A radio campaign is starting today to alert people addicted to prescription narcotics to a treatment option available in the privacy of a doctor's office.

State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., is calling upon physicians statewide to join the Department of Health and the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) to increase awareness about a treatment option – buprenorphine, or "bupe" (pronounced "bewp").

"Prescription drug abuse has reached an all-time high and we, as physicians, can play an important role in providing treatment," Commissioner Daines said.

OASAS Commissioner Karen M. Carpenter-Palumbo said, "Prescription drug abuse is on the rise across the state and nationally, especially among our young adults. OASAS is working with the Department of Health to call public attention to the serious complications and dependence of prescription narcotics and urge individuals addicted to opioids to seek treatment from a qualified physician. We also want to call upon the physicians who do use buprenorphine to make sure that their patients are linked to a behavioral health treatment provider in the OASAS system – medication-assisted treatment works best when there is a strong linkage to behavioral health treatment."

Buprenorphine is a pill used to treat opioid addiction made under the brand names Suboxone and Subutex. Buprenorphine dissolves under the tongue. The advantages of buprenorphine are:

  • Users are unlikely to overdose if the medication is taken properly;
  • "Bupe" is long acting; the pill can be taken once a day or, if approved by a doctor, every other day;
  • "Bupe" can be used by adolescents.

The goal of medication-assisted treatment is to recover from addiction. It does not replace one addictive drug with another. Buprenorphine provides a safe, controlled level of medication to overcome the use of a problem opioid.

Through a $600,000 grant funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, the radio campaign will draw attention to prescription narcotic addiction and encourage addicted individuals to seek treatment. Physicians and pharmacies statewide will be provided with printed materials that highlight the fact that addiction can be effectively treated with "bupe," which can be prescribed in the privacy of a physician's office and dispensed by a pharmacy. Physicians will be encouraged to become qualified to treat their patients who are addicted to opioids or to advise such patients to obtain treatment from a qualified physician.

Many people do not realize that prescription pain medication has the same potential for addiction, overdose and death as street drugs. The Department of Health's Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement reports that in 2008, more than 9 million prescriptions were filled for an opioid-type drug. OASAS estimates that 1.8 million New Yorkers require assistance with chemical dependency.

Emergency room visits due to abuse of prescription drugs are higher than the number of visits due to abuse of marijuana and heroin combined. For every person addicted to heroin, there are two persons addicted to prescription narcotics.

The script for the radio commercials demonstrates how easily addiction can occur:

"My name is Joe. I was in a bad car accident and broke my leg in several places. I went through multiple surgeries and spent weeks in the hospital. The recovery was really hard to get through. They gave me prescription medication for the pain. As time went on, I found myself taking more and more pills. I didn't tell my doctor. Now, I can't get through a day without taking drugs. I never meant to get hooked. It just happened."

(Announcer): " Does this story sound familiar?? Do you or someone you know depend on prescription narcotics to get through the day? Do you take more pills than the prescription says? Many people do not realize that prescription pain medication can be as addictive as street drugs and you can overdose and die. The good news? Treatment is now available in the privacy of a doctor' s office. For more information on prescription drug abuse and available treatment, see the New York State Department of Health website www.nyhealth.gov. Seek help now. It could save your life."

More information about prescription drug abuse and associated treatment is available at www.nyhealth.gov/bupe/. New Yorkers with questions about addiction problems can also contact OASAS's 24-hour, toll-free help line at 1-877-8-HOPENY (1-877-846-7369).