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City to tackle over-prescribing of drugs

Oxycodone tablets being dispenses in a pharmacy on

Oxycodone tablets being dispenses in a pharmacy on Jan. 12, 2012. Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Just 15 percent of New York City health care providers write the vast majority of prescriptions for opioid painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, according to data released Wednesday by the Department of Health.

This means just more than 8,000 health care professionals wrote painkiller prescriptions for about 1.1 million patients out of 1.3 million in 2010, according to the city. Some of those doctors and medical professionals were considered "very frequent" prescribers who wrote from 530 to 10,185 scripts in a year, officials said.

The prescription practices were highlighted as city officials Wednesday proposed giving medical professionals access to a state database to prevent over-prescribing and misuse of the painkillers that have become a major law enforcement and health concern.

"Strengthening our drug monitoring system will help us work together to ensure that well-intentioned providers don't inadvertently over-prescribe these pills -- with potentially dangerous consequences -- and that we have the information we need to investigate those who are actively engaging in criminal behavior," Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs said in a statement.

"The problem often begins with us, as physicians," Dr. Thomas Farley, the city's health commissioner, said in a statement.

A bill in Albany would enhance penalties against doctors and pharmacists who violate the drug laws. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also has proposed a system for prescription tracking, which would be available to all medical professionals who write scripts, a spokesman said recently.

City data showed that in 2010 physicians accounted for 72 percent of painkiller prescribers, followed by dentists, physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

Last month Bridget Brennan, the city's special narcotics prosecutor noted at a City Council hearing that prescriptions for oxycodone -- the most frequently prescribed painkiller -- have skyrocketed in the five boroughs by 124 percent from 2007 to 2011, according to state data she analyzed.

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