As tentative deals come together on key elements of a new system designed to reduce the growing problem of doctor shopping by people addicted to prescription drugs, those in the medical community must recognize the desperate need for the changes.
The proposed prescription drug-tracking program requires the participation of physicians and pharmacists, but there has been pushback from some who see this as another mandate that will take away time from patient care and result in fewer prescription painkillers dispensed to those who truly need them.
That doesn't have to be the case.
The idea, as New York officials view it, is to have an Internet-based program that will permit doctors and pharmacists to track prescriptions logged just 30 minutes behind real time. Unresolved questions include whether to broaden the initiative to cover all drugs on a federal narcotics list, as reported by News Albany bureau chief Tom Precious, who quoted several sources speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the late-stage talks.
All sides agree that the program will feature a "real time" reporting system. But it takes time to type information into computer systems and, human nature being what it is, it has raised questions in terms of logistics and unintended consequences if it results in less doctor-patient face time.
It is encouraging that Dr. Robert J. Hughes, president of the Medical Society of the State of New York, said, "We recognize there's a problem. We want to be part of the solution." But the solution means change and change is always difficult, at first.
Those in the medical field must recognize the greater public policy at work, and the end goal of reducing the number of fraudulent claims for the medication and, eventually, those who end up dying.
The award-winning Buffalo News special report, "Rx for Danger," last year brought to light the highly addictive habit of prescription painkiller abuse.
Findings of the series showed that prescription opioids have become more popular among drug abusers than cocaine. Western New York has distinguished itself in the worst way, becoming a hot spot for some of the most abused opioid painkillers, such as fentanyl, hyrdocodone and oxycodone.
The series showed that the drug trade has evolved in respect to these prescription painkillers, so that rather than worrying about buying the drugs on the streets, many addicts simply steal them from friends, family members and pharmacies. Unless they find a pliable doctor willing to give out prescriptions with minimal or no checking.
The sad result too often is death.
Negotiators say there's a push to reach a final agreement on the new regulations as early as next Monday, the first anniversary of the suicide of Michael D. Israel, 20, of Buffalo, who killed himself last June 4 while addicted to prescription drugs.
If not, legislators hope to get a final agreement by June 19, the first anniversary of the murder of four people at a Long Island pharmacy by a man stealing thousands of hydrocodone pills.
These are heartbreaking stories of lives lost and families desperately trying to prevent the next tragedy. It is an effort that was spurred a couple of years ago with a legislative push by Suzanne Crotty, an Erie County resident whose son, Zach, died from a prescription drug overdose in 2009 at age 19. Other grieving parents later joined the effort.
Slowing the surge in prescription drug abuse, or even stopping it altogether, will require full cooperation from the medical community. These are not punitive measures; they are intended to safeguard the public while helping to deliver high-quality service to those in need.
Times have changed and so has the way addicts acquire their drugs. It is imperative that we use technology in an effort to stem this growing tide.