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Schumer pursues bill to address hydrocodone abuse

Sen. Charles Schumer is campaigning for legislation to make it more difficult to prescribe the painkiller hydrocodone in an effort to reduce prescription drug and heroin abuse.

In a news conference Monday at the Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, Schumer (D-N.Y.) said a bipartisan bill he introduced in the Senate on March 20 would change hydrocodone, the generic name for Vicodin, Norco and Lortab, from a Schedule III drug to a Schedule II drug. A similar bill was introduced in the House by Florida Republican Vern Buchanan.

In February, New York reclassified hydrocodone as a Schedule II drug, part of the I-STOP law signed in 2012 designed to change how prescription drugs are distributed and tracked. Beginning Aug. 27, doctors will have to consult an electronic database when they are prescribing controlled substances.

But Schumer said a federal law was needed so that out-of-state "pill mills" could not elude the state law.

The change would mean a doctor couldn't call in a prescription over the phone but must either write or electronically file it; supplies would be limited to 30 days; and no refills would be allowed -- a person must see the doctor again to get another prescription.

The painkiller oxycodone, another abused painkiller but less often prescribed than hydrocodone, is already a Schedule II drug.

"Hydrocodone is often a gateway drug to heroin," said Schumer, who is co-sponsoring the bill with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). "The problem is that it is overprescribed," he said.

In 2008 and 2009, hydrocodone was the most commonly prescribed controlled prescription drug on Long Island, according to state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

For Laura Bustamante of Medford, the bill is a way to make good come from tragedy. Her father, Bryon Sheffield, was one of four gunned down on Father's Day almost two years ago in a Medford pharmacy by David Laffer, seeking pain pills for himself and his wife, Melinda Brady.

But Bustamante said it was a partial answer. "I think there needs to be more collaboration between pharmaceutical companies, doctors and patients," she said.

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