There seems to be no end to the city's public health initiatives in the Bloomberg administration's twilight hour, and now it appears attention's being turned to prescription painkiller abuse: today, the Health Department released new data showing a marked rise in fatal overdoses from prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin, with overdose deaths in Staten Island rising 261 percent since 2005.

The report [pdf] covered prescription opioid painkiller deaths from 2005 and 2011, showing a 65 percent rise in fatalities from oxcycodone, the active drug in Percocets and OxyContin, and hydrocodone, which is the active drug in Vicodin. According to the data, over one third of drug-related deaths were from opioid painkillers in 2011, as compared to 16 percent in 2005, and New Yorkers between the ages of 25 and 34 saw a 227 percent increase in fatal overdoses in the observed period. Most notably, in 2011 Staten Island's fatal overdose rates were four times as high as those in the four other boroughs, and health officials say its time to take action. "“[Prescription opioids] are chemically and biologically very similar to heroin and, like heroin, can lead to addiction and fatal overdose,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said in a statement. “Physicians and patients need to know the potential dangers of using these drugs.”

To start, the Health Department plans to hold two conferences for doctors and dentists on Staten Island next month, where they hope to come up with better guidelines for prescribing painkillers to patients. Earlier this year, Bloomberg announced an initiative to cut the number of days doctors can prescribe painkillers to emergency room patients; the initiative has since been adopted by all 11 public hospitals and 9 private hospitals.

According to today's report, the number of painkiller prescriptions filled by New Yorkers increased from around 1.6 million to approximately 2.2 million from 2008 to 2011, with 53 percent of those prescriptions being for oxycodone; Staten Island officials hope further measures will help cut down on painkiller prescriptions, dependencies and deaths in their borough.

"The Health Department’s data confirms what many Staten Islanders have unfortunately witnessed firsthand: prescription opioid painkillers are out of control in our borough and taking far too many of our loved ones,” Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro said in a statement.