'Staggering' hike in painkillers prescribed

In this file photo, a pharmacy tech poses In this file photo, a pharmacy tech poses for a picture with hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen tablets, the generic version of Vicodin, at Oklahoma Hospital Discount Pharmacy in Edmond, Okla. (Aug. 5, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

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Prescriptions in New York City for some of the most widely abused painkillers have increased by a "staggering" 124 percent in the past five years, with much of that increase occurring in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, a key city prosecutor said Wednesday.

The increase last year in the number of prescriptions filled for oxycodone and hydrocodone reached nearly 2 million, the equivalent of nearly one prescription for every four city residents, said special narcotics prosecutor Bridget Brennan.

"We were stunned by what we have learned," Brennan told a hearing of the City Council Committee on Public Safety chaired by Peter F. Vallone Jr., a Democrat from Astoria.

In 2011 alone, the number of prescriptions filled in the city for oxycodone, also known by the brand name OxyContin, increased by 13 percent, for a total of more than 1.2 million, noted Brennan, referring to data her office obtained from the state Health Department under the Freedom of Information Law. Hydrocodone, marketed as Vicodin and other brands, accounted for 756,000 filled prescriptions last year, a 4 percent drop from the prior year, said officials.

Brennan, whose office has citywide jurisdiction to prosecute drug cases, said that matters involving prescription painkiller opioids now comprise 20 percent of the caseload in her office. She testified in support of state legislation that would enhance prosecution of those who traffic in prescription painkillers and those involved in diversion of noncontrolled drugs for AIDS and depression. The City Council is sponsoring a resolution to back the proposed bill.

The area's explosion in prescription drug trafficking has occurred in bodegas and storefronts, as well as in pharmacies that repurchase drugs on the black market, Brennan said.

Law enforcement officials said large-scale diversion of painkillers in the city has occurred, fueled by unscrupulous doctors and people who steal or forge prescription forms. Some of the illegal diversions have gone to Long Island users, said one law enforcement official.

Pharmacy robberies for prescription painkillers also have spiked, some with tragic results. It was last Father's Day when David Laffer, 34, an abuser of painkillers, murdered four people in a Medford pharmacy. He and his wife, Melinda Brady, 30, who was an accomplice, since have been convicted and sentenced to prison. Last week in Manhattan, police broke up a pharmacy robbery in which they said a 23-year-old suspect stole painkillers and cash, and was shot dead by a retired NYPD officer. A second suspect in the case was arrested Wednesday.

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