Hillbilly Heroin Use On the Rise in Central Harlem

Oxycodone Prescription Sales New York City wide

Oxycodone Prescription Sales New York City wide

When Harlem AIDS doctor, Diana Williamson was charged last August as “queenpin” of a $1 million Oxycontin/Medicaid fraud ring, it was clear “hillbilly heroin” or Oxycontin was making inroads into urban areas. According to data released by the New York City Office of Special Narcotics, the prescription sales of Hydrocodone, generic Vicodin, and its stronger drug cousin, Oxycodone, generic Oxycontin, have spiked over 50% since 2007.

Prescriptions for Oxycodone were filled in pharmacies in one Central Harlem zip code 2,901 times. In 2009 that number in New York, NY 10026 jumped to 5,007. Neighboring area pharmacies report similar increases that reflect a nationwide trend in the abuse of prescription opiates. Citywide, almost a million prescriptions for Oxycodone were filled in 2009 with the biggest numbers coming from Harlem, Staten Island and the Bronx.

“[Pharmacy data] doesn’t tell us if that medication is being used for non-medical purposes.” says Belinda Greenfield, Director of Addiction Medicine as Self Sufficiency Services at The Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. “You start to drill a little deeper and you start to see whether the medication is being used on the street, whether it’s being abused.”

The New York State Health Department’s pharmacy data is used by law enforcement to track and analyze patterns and illegal drug sources for prosecution, but according to Bridget Brennan, Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York, “These cases are very time-consuming cases to put together.”

While prescription opiates may be stereotyped as “suburban” drugs, Greenfield says location is of little importance for prescription drug abuse. “Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to matter where you are. Even in some of our more rural communities statewide, we’re seeing significant increases in the use of prescription medication. It seems to be across the map regardless of geographic location.”

The following map shows the affected areas where the spike in prescriptions was noted by authorities and charts show pharmacy sales of Oxycodone and Hydrocodone from 2007 – 2009 in the zip codes 10026, 10027, and 10031 of Central Harlem.

View Prescription Opiates Pharmacy Sales in Central Harlem in a larger map

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