State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is again pushing for legislation to create an online, real-time database to report and track the use of prescription narcotic drugs.
Last year, Schneiderman unveiled the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act, or I-STOP. The legislation is designed to provide health care practitioners and pharmacists with centralized information to avoid over-prescribing, help shut down prescription drug trafficking, and identify and treat patients who seek to abuse prescription drugs.
On Wednesday, Schneiderman announced that the bill has bipartisan support. It's being sponsored by Assemblyman Michael Cusick, DStaten Island, and by Sen. Andrew J. Lanza, RStaten Island.
Eric Schneiderman, attorney general, New York state
The AG also issued a report Wednesday that he said details the growing prescription drug abuse crisis in every corner of the state. Statewide, the number of prescriptions for all narcotic painkillers has increased by six million, from 16.6 million in 2007 to nearly 22.5 million in 2010. Contributing to the problem, Schneiderman said, are a lack of communication between practitioners, which significantly increases the likelihood of over-prescribing and dangerous drug interaction, and access to an ever-increasing supply of prescription narcotics, through legal or illegal means.
In the North Country, the attorney general's office said health care facilities have experienced a staggering increase in the percentage of non-crisis admissions for substance abuse involving prescription narcotics. In Franklin County, the number of people who sought such drug treatment for such patients more than quadrupled, from 34 to 127, from 2007 to 2010. The state Department of Health says the number of prescriptions given out in Franklin County for two of the most commonly abused narcotics, hydrocodone and oxycodone, increased 49 and 48 percent, respectively, from 2008 to 2010, according to the AG's report.
"The prescription drug abuse crisis in New York and across the country has reached epidemic proportions," Schneiderman said in a press release. "(The) report illustrates how this growing problem demands a better solution for both our health care providers and law enforcement officials to track the flow of potentially dangerous substances. Inaction is not an option."
New York's current prescription monitoring program requires pharmacists to report controlled substances they dispense at least once every 45 days. There is no tracking of each prescription written, and there is no mechanism for pharmacists to ensure that a prescription presented is valid.
I-STOP would require the Department of Health to establish and maintain an online, real-time reporting system to track the prescription and dispensing of controlled substances. It would also require a doctor to review a patient's controlled substance prescription history on the system before prescribing. Pharmacists would also have to review the system to confirm that a prescription someone presents is legitimate.
Schneiderman's report was praised by a law enforcement officials, lawmakers and health care experts who called on the state Legislature to pass the I-STOP proposal in the coming weeks.
"I think it's a huge step in the right direction," Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne told the Enterprise Wednesday. "We've had a number of cases where people have obtained prescription drugs with Medicaid or a cash purchase from one pharmacy, then they go across town or to another pharmacy in another county and they're buying the same drugs. If there was a way to cross-reference that more quickly or efficiently, there wouldn't be that product on the streets, potentially harming our children or our community."
State Sen. Betty Little said she thinks state lawmakers will address the prescription drug abuse crisis this year.
"Prescription drug abuse is a big problem in the North Country, and I think this legislation would be very effective at reducing abuse, preventing crime, saving taxpayer dollars and, most importantly, saving lives," Little said in an emailed statement. "I expect there will be a lot of support in the Legislature this year to address this growing problem and I look forward to reviewing Attorney General Schneiderman's proposal."