New York's prescription drug database -- a cornerstone of the state's attempts to crack down on pill abuse -- was offline most of this week, state health officials said.
State health department spokesman Peter Constantakes said the problem was "a hardware issue that has been corrected."
The state did not provide information on whether the system has broken down before or how many doctors complained about the outage.
Not having the database available for most of a week was "very frustrating," said Dr. Thomas Jan, a pain management and addiction specialist in Massapequa.
"I have made it an integral part of my practice," he said.
A drug expert agreed the outage limited doctors' options.
"At the height of an opiate crisis not only here on Long Island but also statewide we need every available tool at our disposal to combat doctor shopping and over-prescribing physicians," said Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
The database contains information on what controlled drugs are being prescribed to whom and can alert doctors to whether patients are visiting multiple doctors in a search for drugs.
Although limited, the database is aimed at stemming prescription drug abuse and pharmacy robberies, like the one committed by David Laffer, who shot and killed four people in a Medford pharmacy in 2011.
But the data are often weeks old, doctors are not required to use the database and pharmacists don't have access to it.
In June, state lawmakers unanimously passed the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act, or I-STOP, to establish a real-time database that doctors will be required to check before prescribing prescription pain pills such as OxyContin.
The new database is scheduled to go online in August, Constantakes said. Pharmacists will not be required to use the improved system.
State Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), a champion of I-STOP, said the current database is still valuable. "As outdated as it may be now . . . there are practicing physicians who feel the current database is essential for them to have appropriate prescribing practices," said Hannon, who chairs the Senate health committee.
Doctors say the current database helps detect patterns of abuse.
Constantakes said that during this week's shutdown, inquiring doctors were helped "the old-fashioned way," with health department employees directly answering their questions.
But Jan said that wasn't the case for him.
Despite repeated phone calls, he was unable to get information on specific cases. By the end of the week, he said he had a stack of cases he hadn't been able to check.