When state auditors examined records for more than 22 million prescriptions dispensed in New York State, they found errors on more than 325,000 prescriptions that had been filled more than 565,000 times.
Among the findings:
*In 135 instances, prescriptions were written by doctors and other practitioners who did not have valid medical licenses.
*More than 90,000 prescriptions were filled more than 157,000 times beyond their authorized refill quantities.
*More than 130,000 prescriptions contained invalid Drug Enforcement Registration provider numbers.
About 180,000 prescription numbers appeared more than once in the prescription database, having been filled at different locations or with inconsistent information regarding who prescribed the medication.
Auditors from the State Comptroller's Office reviewed the prescription database that is maintained by the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. The database is created from data electronically transmitted when prescriptions are filled in New York. Some 218 million prescriptions were issued in New York State from April 1, 2007 to March 8, 2012, according to the Comptroller's Office. The state auditors reviewed about 22 million prescription forms, finding problems with 325,000, or 1.5 percent.
When the auditors discussed their findings with the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, the agency responded that about 50,000 of the errors were data entry mistakes, and that the actual prescriptions did not reflect the problems state auditors cited, the Comptroller's Office said.
Nonetheless, while the bureau bases many of its investigations on tips it receives, the bureau said it will do more analysis of the prescription database to help find abuse and diversion, the Comptroller's Office said.
The issue is important, the Comptroller's Office noted, because illegal use of prescription drugs is an escalating problem, leading to crime, addiction and death.
Errors made on prescriptions are one of many problems that have led to the fast rise in painkiller drug addictions in Western New York, said Dale M. Kasprzyk, resident agent in charge of the Buffalo office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
"Pharmacists need more computerized tools to help them check on the legitimacy and accuracy of prescriptions they get," Kasprzyk said. "I've spoken to many pharmacists … They are very sincere in wanting to do the right thing, but they get caught in the middle of these problems."
The state's forthcoming "I-Stop" program, which will give pharmacists access to real-time information about doctors and the drugs they have prescribed for patients, should be "a big help" in spotting erroneous or bogus prescriptions, the longtime drug investigator said.
Kasprzyk said he is gratified that painkiller abuse has become a much more high-profile issue in Western New York over the past three years, thanks to increased media attention, some hard-working advocacy groups, some major criminal prosecutions and efforts by medical professionals.
"This issue is getting much more attention than it was a few years ago, and I really think it is helping us to address the problem," he said.