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Schneiderman outlines steps for beating opiate epidemic

A national “I-STOP” program that prevents painkiller addicts from doctor-shopping to obtain multiple prescriptions needs to be put in place either by the states or the federal government, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman told families who have lost children to opiate addiction Friday.

Continuing to strengthen ties with attorneys general in neighboring states to stop the flow of heroin is another initiative Schneiderman said is needed because addicts turn to heroin when they no longer can obtain pharmaceutically manufactured opiates.

Drug smugglers, he said, pay no attention to state boundaries in their quest to out-maneuver police. Increased collaborations, the attorney general said, would put law enforcement in a better position to shut down heroin pipelines.

And while these steps are important, Schneiderman and the families agreed preventive education is the best solution to beating the opiate epidemic, which continues to claim thousands of lives annually across the country.

Education should include schoolchildren, parents, doctors and social workers, according to Avi Israel, who has led a local crusade to increase public awareness since his son committed suicide in 2011 after becoming hooked on prescribed opiate painkillers during treatment for Crohn’s disease.

“We’re thinking the State Education Department needs to mandate education on addiction and not just once or twice a year, but have it regularly,” Israel said, explaining that while there is a new law requiring education, nothing has happened yet. “I’ve talked to doctors who have treated kids for addiction as young as 8 years old and kids who are shooting heroin at 10 and 12 years old.”

And even though the number of prescriptions for painkilllers has dropped in the state, Schneiderman said some individuals have found a way to circumvent I-STOP, which allows doctors and pharmacists to check an Internet database in real time to determine if an individual has multiple prescriptions.

“I’ve heard of people going to Florida to get prescription medications and then coming back here,” he said of the need for a national database. “The federal government could reward states that participate or take away funding if they do not participate.”

Another obstacle to beating the epidemic, Schneiderman said, is the powerful lobby representing pharmaceutical drug companies.

“We’re up against corporate behemoths,” he said in urging families to work together on the local level and across state lines to increase the power of their advocacy efforts.

A measure that would have required doctors to receive three hours of training every four years passed the State Senate this year, but was blocked in the Assembly.

In the coming year, Israel said, families who have lost loved ones to painkillers will be making it a top priority for anyone with the ability to write prescriptions to receive mandatory education on addiction.

“I wish the three doctors who prescribed opiates to my son would have known what they were prescribing,” Israel said.

“A curriculum is needed for doctors on how to prescribe narcotics.”