Staten Island: Still ‘Crazy’ After 350 years?

| August 4, 2011 6:00 AM | Updated: August 22 12:30 PM

Oxycodone pills. Abuse and illicit sale of the powerful prescription opiate has boomed in New York City since 2007 -- particularly on Staten Island. Flickr/Be.Futureproof.

Monday marks the 350th Anniversary of the founding of Staten Island.

Unfortunately for many of the borough’s most “excited” celebrators — the proprietors and customers of Nel-Boys Bagels in Great Kills — the festivities will have to be performed from jail or in withdrawal.

On Sunday, an NYPD sting named “Operation Bitter Pill” found 2,500 oxycodone pills, 368 Percocets, 300 grams of cocaine and two assault weapons for sale among more traditional deli merchandise, like lox.

Nearly one-third of Staten Islanders are zonked on oxycodone, if the reported statistics are to be believed. (A true parsing of the data, below, shows that this is likely not the case.)

Prescriptions for the drug, the active ingredient in opiate medications Oxycontin and Percocet, rose 98 percent between 2007 and 2010, the Wall Street Journal reported. Per capita, these prescriptions account for 28 percent of Staten Island’s population.

Many say it’s high time that something be done about the borough’s public health problem, which has been compared to the start of New York City’s crack epidemic in the 1980s. Earlier this month, Staten Island District Attorney candidate Michael Ryan told a group of education leaders that he believes schools can help beat the oxycodone epidemic.

But both residents and officials are split over where the source of the problem truly lies and how best to combat it.

High on whose supply? In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies began marketing oxycodone for patients suffering from a host of different physical ailments, as opposed to just the terminally ill. Since then, the ease of getting a prescription has steadily transformed the drug into a legal — yet more expensive — alternative to heroin.

While the statistics show that the number of prescriptions filled in 2010 on Staten Island account for roughly one-third of the population, that doesn’t necessarily mean one-third of the population is prescribed oxycodone. People can get multiple prescriptions and residents of other boroughs may fill their oxycodone prescriptions on Staten Island, where pharmacies have the cheapest prices of all the boroughs on average. But that doesn’t mean the rampant sale and abuse of the drug is not happening on Staten Island itself. Recall the infamous bust last March of a Staten Island ice cream truck that sold millions of dollars worth of painkillers.

For lawmakers, law enforcement officials and addiction prevention specialists, the difficulty in determining the ratio of people being over-prescribed the drug and/or abusing their own medication to the number of people  selling their medication on the black market is central to the problem.

How do you fight a war against a legal drug that many people in chronic pain depend on in order to live normal lives? That’s the big question, and there are several answers being proposed.

  • At the doctor’s office. Currently, New York state doctors and pharmacists have no way to see a patient’s prescription history, thus allowing addicts to shop around for doctors and collect multiple prescriptions — many of which get sold to both small time dealers and organized crime circuits, according to various reports in the Staten Island Advance.  In June, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman introduced legislation calling for “I-STOP” — a system which would provide health care practitioners with a centralized, electronic system to track the prescription records of certain controlled substances, like oxycodone. Some fear that the bill, which is currently in committee, violates patient confidentiality laws.
  • On the street. Special Narcotics Prosecutor Brennan expects to have a new special prescription drug fighting unit ready as early as August. Brennan said that the NYPD has witnessed a sharp rise in gangs selling oxycodone along with guns and heroin, suggesting that the painkiller is now deeply embedded in the cycle of violence that has surrounded the illicit drug trade for the past century.
  • Ed

    I am a pharmacist working in NYC and the number of rx’s for oxycodone that come into my store are ridiculous. Many of them are for medicaid recipients and from different boroughs, mostly Bronx. Every rx has a serial # on it that is entered into a computer and every medicaid rx filled leaves a computer record. The abusive doctors and so called patients can be inentified. Why is more not being done to curb this scourge. I turn away these rx’s. Unfortunately, most of these pills wind up on the street, giving addicts, many young, adequately supply and sellers way too much illegal income, while society picks up the tab. The authorities MUST do more to stop this.

    • Cookie Cookie

      Thanks for being a Pharmacist that cares, most do not or have given up, my Dentist has the same problem with patients who “pretend” to have toothaches seeking prescription for drugs that were meant to relieve pain temporarily and not for resale or abuse.

  • angel deruvo

    Please support DYC an organization that has been around for 41 years. THis helps today youth and focuses on long term care.

  • SI Bella

    This is scary and something needs to done. Kids should be aware of the effect this drug can have on their lives

    • Cookie Cookie

      You just did do something Bella you read this and spoke about it and keep speaking – our kids future depends on it – dealers are waiting outside our doors waiting to poison our kids and the wealthy people who are profiting this do not care about their future.

  • Cookie Cookie

    What angers me is that anything, anyone and/or group is stoppable by our government, state, city and counties – so why have they NOT stop the distribution of drugs and weapons? Terrorists are the least of our worries, America is no longer owned by Americans in most major cities leases are owned by the Middle East and Asia.

    It is all about WEALTH and a combination of power by any means
    necessary by those so high up you dare not mention the who’s and where’s.

    Today’s wealth is profited from an entire generation of drug-addicted parents, now absent or returning to over burden our healthcare system and over flooding into another lost generation of foster care kids hence another broken society marketed on NASDAQ by private prisons warehoused stocked by Americans White and Black for profit.

    You should all be afraid! Very afraid a famous female news reporter stood in front of an active poppy farm in Afghanistan and said “95% of the plants behind her would end up in the US.” We say terrorist are trying to take away our freedoms – we are terrorizing our own people and country by allowing guns and drugs to destroy our people. And, to add insult to injury now our people have access to home grown destructive products sold in the open waiting to kill our kids, who have lost hope.

    Fast forward to the end – an entire country will one day suffer just as in the end of the Roman Empire and all of America’s wealth will mean NOTHING!

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