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Prescriptive Measures

Drug overdoses took the lives of some 64,000 Americans in 2016, a 22 percent rise over the previous year. The majority of these deaths were linked to opioids—including heroin, prescription painkillers and the powerful synthetic drug fentanyl—which together killed more people than gun violence or even car accidents. The growing crisis has alarmed officials at the highest levels, and in October, President Donald Trump directed the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the nationwide epidemic of opioid abuse a public health emergency. “It is a huge problem,” says Dr. Jonathan Avery, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine and an assistant attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, where he serves as director of addiction psychiatry. “When I started here in 2009, it wasn’t even on many doctors’ radar.” In recent years, however, New York City has seen a staggering number of fatal overdoses—nearly 1,400 in 2016, a 46 percent increase over the previous year, according to the city’s health department. Says Dr. Avery: “We’re seeing a lot of death everywhere.”

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