Another Voice: Combating the prescription drug epidemic - The Buffalo News

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Another Voice: Combating the prescription drug epidemic

By Eric T. Schneiderman

For as long as there have been prescriptions, there has been misuse of prescription drugs. But in recent years, abuse of prescription painkillers has exploded, leaving in its wake a trail of addiction and – in too many cases – violence.

That’s why I pushed a new law in New York State that created I-STOP – the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing – to make our communities safer and to aid patients who get hooked on these highly addictive medicines.

And it’s why I-STOP includes a first-in-the-nation requirement that doctors and other health care providers consult a real-time database before prescribing opioid pills.

That mandatory verification provision took effect Aug. 27, the first anniversary of the date I-STOP became law, and it should go a long way toward curbing this deadly trend.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared prescription drug abuse an epidemic.

Nationwide, enough pain pills were sold in 2010 to give every adult 5 milligrams of hydrocodone every four hours for a month. A federal study released just last month found a 400 percent rise in overdose deaths among women from prescription narcotics from 1999 to 2010.

In New York, a state with 19.4 million people, pharmacists filled 13 million prescriptions for oxycodone, hydrocodone and other addictive drugs in 2012.

In Erie County, more than three times as many prescriptions were written for hydrocodone between 2008 and 2010 than for any other controlled substance. And a study by the University at Buffalo found that 40 percent of patients in a hospital detox program became addicted to street drugs after using prescription opioid medications.

The tragic death of 20-year-old Michael Israel of North Buffalo, who committed suicide after years of addiction to prescription pain pills because there was no space for him in rehab, speaks to the desperate need for better tracking and treatment.

I-STOP can help stem the tide. As of Aug. 27, 50,000 New York doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners have to check the database before prescribing powerful medications, and pharmacists have to enter into it every opiate prescription they fill. This will send up a red flag if a doctor-shopper is hoarding pills and warn of potential drug interactions with other medications that legitimate patients may be taking.

Longer term, I-STOP will mandate statewide electronic prescribing, eliminating paper prescription pads – and the possibility of forging orders for dangerous drugs.

It is far better to prevent addiction than to try to treat it after a patient gets hooked. I-STOP is a strong step in that direction.

Eric T. Schneiderman is attorney general of New York State.

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