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Officials: Drug tracking plan may take months

The prescription medicine OxyContin is displayed at a

The prescription medicine OxyContin is displayed at a Walgreens drugstore in Brookline, MA. (Aug. 21, 2001) Credit: Getty Images

ALBANY - ALBANY -- It may take 12 months before "real-time" tracking of prescription narcotics becomes a reality, officials said Wednesday, one day after the governor and legislative leaders reached a breakthrough deal to monitor controlled substances.

The agreement would change how New York supervises opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, leaders said, responding to a wave of pharmacy robberies, prescription thefts and drug-related deaths.

It would require "real-time" updates of a state database every time a doctor prescribes a controlled substance and every time a pharmacist dispenses it. Currently, the state drug monitoring database is updated roughly every 45 days, and pharmacists have no access -- loopholes that critics said have allowed addicts and others to go from doctor to doctor to amass narcotics.

Making the transition will require overhauling computer programs, promulgating numerous state regulations, reclassifying certain drugs, creating a safe disposal program and setting up continuing education opportunities for medical professionals, officials said.

"This doesn't end" with the announcement of the deal, said state Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City). "It's a big challenge."

The key component, "real-time" monitoring, must be established within one year after the legislature passes the bill and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signs it.

Hannon, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said officials hope to have it up and running before then, but there's no guarantee. "We don't know because it has never been done before," he said.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who led the push to overhaul the system, was a bit more optimistic. "Hopefully, we'll get regulations [completed] by end of the year and hopefully, by the end of the year, we'll have the database up and running," Schneiderman said.

Another key to making the system a reality is defining "real time." The first goal, Cuomo officials said, will be to ensure that the database is updated at least every 24 hours, and then shorten the gap as the system is developed. Also, "real time" won't be defined in the bill lawmakers expect to pass in the next two weeks, but will be in Department of Health regulations.

Another key will be to determine who has access to the database. Physicians want to be able to designate someone else to enter information.

"I don't think we want to be turning the highest-trained personnel in the health system into data-entry clerks," said Robert Hughes, an ear, nose and throat specialist in Saratoga Springs and president of the Medical Society, the physicians' lobby group.

The state also will reach out to doctors and pharmacies to encourage them to voluntarily begin accelerating their reporting in advance of the "real time" effective date. It will also establish continuing education programs for health practitioners.

"We need to make sure doctors understand how bad the situation is in the state in terms of addiction and the murders going on," State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said.

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