Attorney General: Program would reduce prescription drug abuse, get addicts much-needed help
Op-Ed Published in The Journal News
By Eric Schneiderman
Drug abuse is not typically associated with pharmacies, doctors' offices or the home medicine cabinet. But the fact is, New York has a dangerous and growing prescription drug problem that has redefined our sense of addiction, rightly demanding the attention of our communities and law enforcement officials.
The numbers indicate nothing short of an epidemic. Between 2007 and 2010, the rates of admission to treatment programs for prescription drug abuse increased by 45 percent. At the same time, more prescriptions were filled — in Westchester County, the number of oxycodone prescriptions grew by 31 percent from 2008 to 2010, while zolpidem (Ambien[0xae]) grew by 25 percent.
The data reflect national trends showing prescription drug abuse as the country's second most prevalent illegal drug problem. Ending it will require us to stop prescription drugs from falling into the wrong hands.
In response, I have proposed new legislation called the "Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act," or "I-STOP," a program which connects doctors and pharmacists to a real time, online database to track the prescription and dispensing of frequently abused drugs.
We know that most prescription drug addicts and dealers rely on licensed doctors and pharmacists to access substances like oxycodone, vicodin and Xanax. I-STOP provides our medical professionals with the information they need to prescribe medications to patients who truly need them, and prevent those same substances from falling into the wrong hands.
Doctors and pharmacists who act in good faith will have better tools to treat their patients. If a patient complains of severe pain and asks for a prescription, the provider will immediately be able to see if that same patient already has multiple outstanding prescriptions for painkillers. In that case, the doctor could not only decline to write a new prescription, but also have a conversation with their patient about whether they are at risk for drug abuse, and recommend treatment options.
If a doctor or pharmacist sees a disturbing pattern in prescriptions that have been written or filled by other providers they could also report their concerns to state health authorities.
For the small number of bad actors who fuel prescription drug abuse by selling drugs to anyone who asks for them, or simply turning a blind eye to obvious signs of abuse, this law will give them fewer places to hide. In the past, unscrupulous providers could hide behind their patients by claiming that a patient didn't report their history. Under I-STOP, providers will be required to check the patient's prescription history, so they won't be able to plead ignorance if they willfully overlook evidence of abuse.
I-STOP would be a vast improvement over the present system. Current practice requires pharmacies to report sales of controlled substances, but only several weeks after the event and not in coordination with the doctors who make the prescriptions. A recent change allows doctors to check the data, but they are not required to, allowing addicts and dealers to slip through the cracks.
I-STOP will also invalidate the use of stolen prescription pads because if there's no record in the database to match the paper script, a pharmacist will not be able to fill the prescription. This is another improvement over the present practices, which doesn't include data from the physician to verify paper prescriptions.
We want doctors and pharmacists to be able to provide prescription pain medications and other controlled substances, to patients who truly need them. To do so, they must be armed with the necessary data so that we can protect those who suffer from crippling addictions. The time to act is now; we can't afford to lose another life.