NYC expands drug counseling program 'Relay' to help with opioid crisis

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The New York City Health Department announced Thursday the expansion of its Relay initiative, a $4 million program to battle the growing opioid overdose crisis.

The program, which began in March, has been in three hospital emergency rooms. Now, it will expand to four, adding Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn.

Later in the day, President Trump is expected declare a national health emergency because drug addiction and overdose deaths have reached epidemic levels across much of the country.

Last year, 1,374 people in the five boroughs died from overdoses, a 50-percent increase from 2016.

"We think that the crisis was driven mainly by the introduction of fentanyl into street drugs," NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said. "So the message is that street drugs have never been more dangerous."

In emergency rooms in the hours after someone survives an overdose, The Relay program places a "wellness advocate" with the patient to offer support and overdose risk reduction counseling. The advocates have previous addiction histories and they offer addicts advice on everything from counseling to housing to how to use Naloxone, a drug that reverses an opioid overdose.

One advocate, Robert Fagan, at Thursday's announcement said, "I'm a third generation person who's been addicted to drugs. Lost both of my parents, both mother and father, to the disease of addiction, became an orphan. Went through my own struggles and by the grace I actually survived it and utilized my negatives as positives."

The city's goal is to have the Relay program in 10 New York City emergency rooms by 2019 and to reduce overdose deaths by 35 percent over the next five years.

"The presence of a Relay Wellness Advocate, someone who has personally overcome substance misuse, gives hope and strength to a survivor," said NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray.
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