LI group urges better painkiller tracking

Pharmacy tech with hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen tablets,

Pharmacy tech with hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen tablets, the generic version of Vicodin. (Credit: AP, 2010)

ALBANY -- Pharmacist Jordan Fogel has seen troubling changes at his Syosset drugstore since prescriptions for narcotic painkillers began skyrocketing across New York.

He's installed bulletproof glass, he's hired an armed security guard, and he's turned down plenty of suspect prescriptions -- including one for 720 oxycodone pills.

"I see phony prescriptions all the time," Fogel said. "I see this all day long. . . . I've had people arrested in my pharmacy."


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Fogel was among more than a dozen Long Islanders -- including recovering addicts and parents who have lost children to drug abuse -- who came to Albany Monday to urge lawmakers to pass a bill to improve tracking of prescription painkillers.

Later Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he was "cautiously optimistic" he could reach agreement with the State Senate and Assembly to improve the system. "We've spent a lot of time on it," Cuomo said.

With just 17 days to go in the legislative session, advocates pressed lawmakers to adopt a "real time," Internet-based system for monitoring the issue and dispensing of opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone -- despite strong opposition from physicians' lobby groups.

They want to mandate physicians to report opioid prescriptions and allow pharmacists access to the database -- things that are missing from the current system. The current system also has a lag of about 45 days between when a prescription is written and the database is updated -- a loophole that critics said allows addicts to go from doctor to doctor to obtain pills.

"I was doctor-shopping," said activist Jenna Montalbano, 22, of Queens. She said she got hooked on Vicodin, dropped to 87 pounds and suffered kidney failure before she became "clean" about 15 months ago.

"I was getting prescriptions and no one tried to stop me. All I had to do is ask and it was given to me," she said.

Although lawmakers are close to a deal to create a real time prescription tracking system, they said it seems unlikely to happen this week.

"I share their impatience," said Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), chairman of the Senate Health Committee. "This should have been done months ago. . . . The governor has said he wants to get it done by the end of session and we'll hold him to his word on it."

The Medical Society, the doctors' lobbying group in Albany, favors "better use of the existing database" maintained by the state Health Department. In a statement issued after the activists' news conference, the doctors said lawmakers should not "overcorrect" the current system.

"The medical community has serious concerns with proposals that would mandate reporting and checking a database each and every time a controlled substance prescription is written," the Medical Society said. It said such a mandate would "add to the already tremendous administrative burden" facing doctors.

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