In the last decade, prescription drug abuse has become a tough and growing problem in the U.S. More and more people are dying from abuse of prescription narcotics such as Oxycontin and Vicodin.
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman visited Long Island this week to encourage the State Legislature to pass a bill creating a computer tracking system that will help prevent prescription drug abuse and its resulting crime wave.
The bill will allow the state to create an electronic database of all the controlled substances that are dispensed throughout the state. The system will only be accessible to doctors, pharmacists or law enforcement officials who are investigating a case.
Schneiderman wants to install a real-time tracking system with an online database enabling doctors and pharmacists to report and track prescriptions for the most commonly abused painkillers. The proposed tracking system and online database is called Internet System for Tracking Overprescribing, or I-STOP, according to the Long Island Press.
The program is intended to improve the state’s ability to identify and stop diversion of prescription drugs in an efficient and cost effective manner that will not impede the appropriate medical use of legal controlled substances.
Pharmacies in the state filled more than 7.75 million prescriptions for last year, almost a million more than in 2009. An untold number of those prescriptions are fraudulent, originating with forgers like Suzanne Benizio of the Bronx.
Recently a state judge sentenced Benizio to prison for up to eight years for trading in stolen prescriptions for OxyCotine and other narcotics, and to refund more than $211,000 in Medicaid funds to the state.
“This is a problem that cannot be fixed with band-aid solutions,” Schneiderman said as a dozen officials flanked him at the Mineola offices of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence, a nonprofit anti-drug advocacy group.
Schneiderman cited data that showed crisis drug treatment admissions increased 57 percent in Nassau and 40 percent in Suffolk from 2007 to 2010, and that overdose deaths due to prescription opioids more than tripled in Nassau during the same period.
The proposal comes as Nassau and Suffolk county police have recently trained officers and pharmacists on how best to deter robberies and detect so-called doctor shoppers—substance abusers who seek painkiller prescriptions from multiple doctors simultaneously. Authorities have also been cracking down on doctors who illegally sell painkiller prescriptions.
“The current system is not doing enough,” said Jordan Fogel, a local pharmacist. “Right now I have no tools to check prescriptions aside from just calling doctors.”
Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, a Republican, and District Attorney Kathleen Rice, a Democrat, said I-STOP would help law enforcement agencies identify patterns and doctors who overprescribe. The current system for tracking prescriptions is outdated, ineffective and underutilized, according to Democratic and Republican state Senators and Assembly members who also came to show support.
“We cannot wait. It should have been done a long time ago,” said Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), chairman of the state Senate health committee, who expressed disappointment that the bill has been held up while lawmakers continue tweaking the proposal. “We really need to move forward on a wide range of fronts; otherwise we’re going to lose a generation.”