Streams

Pols Say New Law Will Help Curb Painkiller Abuse

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

State elected officials have struck a tentative deal to create a special prescription drug registry to cut down the growing illicit trade in painkillers.

A similar computer database already exists, but prescribers are only required to update it monthly — effectively allowing people to "pill-shop" among various doctors.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who led the efforts for the new system, said it will let prescribers check on their patients in real time, cutting down on drug abuse and illegal sales.

“It's going to be a valuable tool for treatment, healthcare,” Schneiderman told WNYC. “And it's going to be a critical tool for law enforcement.”

Use of the painkillers known as opioids has been rising dramatically. In 2011, New York pharmacies filled more than 7.75 million prescriptions for hydrocodone and oxycodone — best known as Vicodin and Percocet. That’s close to a million more prescriptions than in 2009.

The new database, however, has several limitations.

Art Levin, with the Center for Medical Consumers, said doctors can use the new tool to check on their patients, but it’s not required.

He also said 70 percent of painkiller abuse comes not from "pill-shopping," but from people who buy painkillers legitimately, but then either don't use the pills properly or unwittingly allow others to take the drugs.

“We still have this huge supply of pills that were legitimately prescribed, floating around in non-abusing, non-addictive families’ medicine cabinets, but they’re very tempting,” Levin said. “This bill does not really deal with that.”

The proposed system, which is expected to win approval by the legislature and governor next week, also requires the Health Department to work with local police departments to establish secure disposal sites for controlled substances at precincts. At these sites individuals can voluntarily surrender unwanted and unused controlled substances.

Currently, individuals can only dispose of controlled substances during an approved take back event or through various methods of self-disposal that are either burdensome or harmful to the environment.

The new disposal system would only be voluntary. Levin said many people who use some — but not all — of their prescribed allotment frequently want to hold onto the rest, in case they need it in the future.

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