Abuse of controlled prescription drugs has reached epidemic proportions. Lives are being lost to overdoses and serious crimes are being committed to obtain these drugs. These abuses take their toll – on families and through rising public health costs. In recent years, I have helped pass new laws aimed at preventing further tragedies while appropriately punishing those who profit on the pain of others.
According to a recent report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 15,000 people die every year of overdoses due to prescription painkillers. In 2010, 1 in 20 people in the United State over the age of 11 reported using prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons in the past year. This alarming trend must be stopped.
Last year, a measure I co-sponsored to revise New York’s prescription monitoring program (PMP) by establishing an on-line, real-time, controlled substance reporting system was signed into law. The Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing (I-STOP) Act requires prescribers and pharmacists to search for and report certain data at the time a controlled substance prescription is issued and dispensed.
Through I-STOP, which takes effect in August, New York will serve as a national leader in combating sweeping prescription drug abuse. Our state is one of the first to move from paper prescriptions to an electronic prescribing system. By connecting practitioners and pharmacists to a greater source of centralized information over-prescribing can be avoided and those who seek to abuse prescription drugs can be more easily identified.
We also launched a program to help individuals safely dispose of unused controlled substances, preventing people who abuse prescription painkillers from surreptitiously obtaining them from friends or relatives. The New York State Department of Health has now established permanent, secure medication drop boxes at a number of sites throughout the state. A complete list of the boxes, which are located at participating police agencies, can be found on the Department of Health website.
While the I-STOP initiative and related measures are all positive steps, we need to remain vigilant. That’s why I am pleased the senate recently passed two more bills that would further prevent prescription drug fraud, theft and abuse.
Senate bill 2941 would further curtail the availability of illegal prescription drugs by focusing on other potential suppliers. The bill expands upon current law by also making it a crime for a practitioner or pharmacist to unlawfully dispense controlled substances. This will address the small group of practitioners and pharmacists who operate “pill mills” or fill prescriptions for controlled substances, such as pain medications, other than in good faith in the course of their practice.
Another bill, senate bill 2940, criminalizes the theft and unlawful possession of a blank official New York state prescription form and establishes new criminal penalties for those involved in this practice. The Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement estimates that since 2008, approximately 1.4 million official prescription forms have been stolen from New York City hospitals alone. Current penal laws are insufficient to counter the theft, possession, and sale of blank official prescription forms because authorities cannot prosecute unless someone sells a prescription form.
Targeting the illegal distribution of controlled substances by helping to reduce the availability of black market prescription forms and prosecuting “pill mills” that issue prescriptions and knowingly dispense controlled substances for profit are commonsense approaches to addressing prescription drug fraud and abuse.
Additionally, if you or someone you know is dealing with a drug abuse issue, help is available. The New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services maintains the toll-free, 24-hour, 7-day a week HOPEline at 1-877-8-HOPENY. The HOPEline is staffed by trained clinicians who are ready to answer questions, help refer individuals to treatment services and provide other vital resources to facilitate recovery. All calls are anonymous and confidential.