The state agency responsible for monitoring prescriptions for controlled substances failed to recognize more than a half-million prescription errors that may have allowed the drugs to be obtained illegally, a state comptroller's audit said.
The audit, released Wednesday by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, found evidence of widespread fraud in more than 565,000 narcotics prescriptions and refills, including for the powerful painkiller oxycodone. The audit of the State Health Department's Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement covered a 15-month period in 2010 and 2011. It found instances of unauthorized refills and prescriptions that were filled by physicians whose licenses had been revoked or suspended.
The bureau also failed to secure official prescription forms, the audit said. "In some cases, these documents may have gone missing from the form supplier's facilities, or even the bureau's own offices, due to lack of controls and proper records," the report said. In one local bureau office, auditors found 1,500 blank forms that could have been "easily . . . made into counterfeit forms," according to the audit.
"The abuse of prescription medications has reached epidemic proportions and the costs to society are enormous," DiNapoli said in a statement. "The bureau needs to aggressively pursue new ways to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute illegal prescription activities."
A health department spokesman didn't respond to repeated requests for comment.
DiNapoli auditors said the department has made several operational changes to address the findings, including eliminating paper-based prescriptions of controlled substances and using new methods to track abuses.
Officials say prescription drug abuse has increased significantly in recent years, nationwide and on Long Island.
Nassau and Suffolk County residents accounted for more than 20 percent of the state's total admissions to opioid pill abuse treatment centers from 2007 to 2010, according to a recent state report. The high addiction rate has fueled a spate of pharmacy robberies, according to officials. Newsday reported that David Laffer, who killed four people at a Medford pharmacy in 2011, and his wife, Melinda Brady, filled prescriptions for almost 12,000 pain pills from dozens of doctors in the four years leading up to the murders.
Jeffrey L. Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence, said the state must do more to counter prescription drug abuse. "Each errant script and each diverted pill fuels an individual's addiction," he said.
A spokesman for the comptroller's office said the findings will not be referred to law enforcement agencies for possible prosecutions of doctors, drug users and others who may have abused the system. A spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office declined to comment.