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Painkiller illegalities targeted by the state; Schneiderman seeks database for tracking

The surge in prescription drug abuse has prompted New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to introduce legislation that would create an online database for reporting and tracking controlled substances in the state.

The legislation was prompted in part by The Buffalo News series "Rx for Danger" that detailed the spread of prescription opioid painkillers into the illegal drug market, leading to drug abuse, addiction and death, Schneiderman said Tuesday.

Schneiderman's bill would provide doctors and pharmacists centralized information in "real time" to prevent overprescribing and doctor shopping, and ultimately to crack down on illegal trafficking of prescription drugs, he said.

Under the legislation, health care professionals and pharmacists would be required to report to the database when certain controlled substances are prescribed and dispensed.

"This is one of our top priorities," Schneiderman said. "The rise of prescription drug abuse in New York and across the country demands a better system for both our health care providers and law enforcement officials to track the flow of potentially dangerous substances."

Schneiderman said he hopes the New York legislation becomes a model for other states. The attorney general requested, and was given, copies of a reprint of The News' series that he said his office will send, along with copies of his legislation, to attorneys general nationwide.

"This bill partly was in response to your series," Schneiderman said in a meeting with editors and reporters at The News.

The "Rx for Danger" series, published in March, found that prescription opioids have become more popular among drug abusers than cocaine and that Western New York is a hot spot for some of the most abused opioid painkillers -- fentanyl, hydrocodone and oxycodone.

Addicts and dealers, the series found, often get the drugs from friends and family members, but also steal them from pharmacies or persuade doctors to write prescriptions for which the patients have no medical need. Several doctors, according to the series, are part of the illegal marketplace.

Schneiderman said his research and conversations with attorneys general nationwide found that the problem of prescription drug abuse is widespread. In addition to his legislative effort, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is sponsoring federal legislation on the issue.

Sunday, Schumer announced that he is co-sponsoring a bill that would require doctors to receive specialized training to prescribe opioid narcotics. The training would help doctors better identify patients vulnerable to addiction, he said.

Schumer previously announced he was sponsoring federal legislation to expand federal anti-racketeering laws to cover crimes involving prescription painkillers.

e-mail: sschulman@buffnews.com