Buffalo, N.Y. (WKBW release) -- Detailing the growing prescription drug abuse epidemic in New York State and nationwide, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on Wednesday issued a report that illustrates the need for legislation to create an online, real-time database to report and track both the prescribing and the dispensing of certain controlled substances.
Today’s report was praised by a broad, bipartisan coalition of law enforcement officials, lawmakers and health care experts who called on the state Legislature to pass the Attorney General’s proposal in the coming weeks.
In 2011, Attorney General Schneiderman unveiled the “Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act,” or “I-STOP” legislation to provide health care practitioners and pharmacists with centralized information to avoid over-prescribing, help shut down prescription drug trafficking, and identify and treat patients who seek to abuse prescription drugs. Attorney General Schneiderman’s program bill expands on a proposal made by Assemblyman Michael Cusick, who is sponsoring the bill in the Assembly. In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by Andrew J. Lanza.
“The prescription drug abuse crisis in Western New York and across the country has reached epidemic proportions. Today’s report illustrates how this growing problem demands a better solution for both our health care providers and law enforcement officials to track the flow of potentially dangerous substances. Inaction is not an option,” Attorney General Schneiderman said in a news release. “I-STOP uses real-time, online technology to streamline communication between health care providers and pharmacists to better serve patients, stop prescription drug trafficking, and provide treatment to those who are addicted. The time to act is now.”
The Attorney General’s report details the growing prescription drug abuse crisis in every corner of New York State – from Buffalo to Long Island. Statewide, the number of prescriptions for all narcotic painkillers has increased by six million, from 16.6 million in 2007 to nearly 22.5 million in 2010. Contributing to the problem are a lack of communication between practitioners, which significantly increases the likelihood of over-prescribing and dangerous drug interaction; and access to an ever-increasing supply of prescription narcotics, through legal or illegal means, which has grown four-fold in the past decade.
Prescription drug abuse is the country’s second most prevalent illegal drug problem, and recent reports and studies have documented corresponding data in the state. For example:
• Statewide prescriptions for hydrocodone have increased 16.7 percent, while those for oxycodone have increased an astonishing 82 percent;
• In Western New York, a Buffalo News investigation found three of the most abused narcotic painkillers (oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl) are prescribed by doctors at a significantly higher rate than in the rest of the state. The use of hydrocodone increased by more than twice the state average between 2007 and 2009;
• Deaths in Erie and Niagara Counties related to prescription opiates (not heroin or methadone) increased 59 percent from 2003 to 2009 according to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; and
• In Buffalo, New York’s largest methadone clinic outside of New York City, Catholic Health System, is beginning to reorganize its service to accommodate an increase in care needed to treat the number of addicted expectant mothers and their newborns.
New York’s current prescription monitoring program requires pharmacists to report controlled substances they dispense at least once every 45 days. There is no tracking of prescriptions written and there is no mechanism whatsoever for pharmacists to ensure that a prescription presented is valid.
I-STOP will vastly enhance the effectiveness of the present system. Its goal is to enable doctors and pharmacists to provide prescription pain medications, and other controlled substances, to patients who truly need them. At the same time, it will arm them with the necessary data to detect potentially dangerous drug interactions, identify patterns of abuse by patients, doctors and pharmacists, help those who suffer from crippling addictions and prevent potential addiction before it starts.
Attorney General Schneiderman’s I-STOP legislation:
• requires the Department of Health to establish and maintain an online, real-time controlled substance reporting system to track the prescription and dispensing of controlled substances;
• requires practitioners to review a patient's controlled substance prescription history on the system prior to prescribing;
• requires practitioners or their agents to report a prescription for such controlled substances to the system at the time of issuance;
• requires pharmacists to review the system to confirm the person presenting such a prescription possesses a legitimate prescription prior to dispensing such substance; and
• requires pharmacists or their agents to report dispensation of such prescriptions.
These enhancements of the state’s prescription drug monitoring program are all necessary to assist in patient care by providing a doctor with a patient's accurate and up-to-date controlled substance prescription history; eliminate the problem of stolen and forged prescriptions being used to obtain controlled substances from pharmacies; crack down on illegal ‘doc-shopping,’ the practice of visiting several different doctors and pharmacies for prescription drugs; facilitate prosecutions of crooked doctors; and achieve significant savings for public and private health insurance programs.
Prescription drug monitoring programs operate in 43 states.
A broad coalition of law enforcement officials, lawmakers, advocates and health care experts hailed Attorney General Schneiderman’s leadership in addressing the epidemic of prescription drug abuse.
Assemblyman Michael Cusick said, “As this report makes clear, the information gap between doctors and pharmacists allows addicts and abusers to slip through our regulatory cracks. The Attorney General’s legislation will better coordinate health care services so that patients receive the medication they need, while addicts and those who profit off of abuse receive the treatment they deserve.”
Senator Andrew J. Lanza said, “Attorney General Schneiderman’s report proves exactly why we need legislation that allows our physicians and pharmacists to access real-time prescription histories to ensure that patients’ prescription use is legitimate – not lethal. I am proud to sponsor the Attorney General’s legislation to improve health care service, and help shut down prescription drug trafficking and abuse.”
Janet DiFiore, Westchester County District Attorney and President of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York said, “The Attorney General's report graphically illustrates the abuse of prescription drugs throughout our State. The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York supports Attorney General Schneiderman’s proposed legislation to greatly enhance the State’s Prescription Monitoring Programs enabling prescribers and pharmacists the ability to make controlled substance dispensing decisions on an immediate and real time basis. In narrowing the information gap, fraud and abuse will be harder to perpetrate."
New York State Association of PBA's President Michael J. Palladino, said, “The Attorney General’s I-STOP plan will help law enforcement and the medical community combat prescription drug abuse head on. In the name of public safety and on behalf of the communities we represent, we look forward to working with the Attorney General to address this epidemic together.”
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, Chairperson of the Department of Psychiatry at Maimonides Medical Center said, “Attorney General Schneiderman’s plan is a big step in the right direction. I-STOP will provide health care practitioners and pharmacists with centralized information to avoid over-prescribing, while at the same time, identifying patients for treatment who seek to abuse prescription drugs. This kind of modernization is exactly what we need from those charged with protecting the public.”
Dan Sisto, The Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers, Inc. said, “Attorney General Schneiderman’s legislation gives law enforcement the tools necessary to protect the public from the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse. It’s time to take action before another tragedy strikes - we can’t afford to wait.”
Avi Israel, of Buffalo, father of Michael Israel who took his own life as a result of a prescription drug addiction said, "I have lost my son Michael to medically-sanctioned addiction. Attorney General Schneiderman is proposing a system to stop these types of unnecessary deaths and addictions. For our families and those who are vulnerable to addiction, we cannot afford to wait to take action. I urge the leaders of the Legislature in Albany to pass Attorney General Schneiderman’s proposal that will save lives, and address the epidemic of prescription drug addiction now.”