A file photo of 80 mg pills of OxyContin.

A file photo of 80 mg pills of OxyContin. Credit: Newsday, 2010 / Thomas A. Ferrara

ALBANY -- Prescriptions for oxycodone, an opiate painkiller, skyrocketed by 82 percent across New York State from 2007 through 2010, according to a new report by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Some areas of Suffolk County feature the highest rates of oxycodone prescriptions written in the state -- 1.5 times the statewide median.

"The prescription abuse crisis in New York and across the country has reached epidemic proportions," Schneiderman said in the report.

Schneiderman, who is advocating a new system to track the prescription and dispensation of controlled substances, said the report "illustrates how this growing problem demands a better solution for both our health care providers and law enforcement officials to track the flow of potentially dangerous substances."

Painkiller abuse and "doctor shopping," in which people fill prescriptions from two or more doctors at two or more pharmacies in a month, has raised alarms since David Laffer murdered four people at Haven Drugs in Medford while stealing painkillers on Father's Day last year. Newsday reported that Laffer and his wife, Melinda Brady, filled prescriptions for almost 12,000 pain pills from dozens of doctors in the four years before the killings.

John Capano, 51, an off-duty Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent, was shot dead in a moment of confusion on New Year's Eve by a retired Nassau police lieutenant as Capano wrestled with a robber who police say had stolen prescription drugs from a pharmacy in Seaford, law enforcement sources say. The robber also was killed.

Many pharmacists on Long Island have begun installing bulletproof glass, security cameras and panic buttons because of violence linked to prescription pain pill abuse.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota has convened a special grand jury to investigate doctor shopping for prescription painkillers and the possible criminal conduct of physicians.

While painkiller prescriptions are booming, Schneiderman said the state's current monitoring method is severely lacking. He said the existing online system provides too little data, is too hard to use and fails to mandate that physicians and pharmacists use it to prevent fraud.

"When a doctor writes a prescription for a controlled substance (e.g., OxyContin)," he said in the report, "he or she has no knowledge that the patient may have received one, two, three or even a dozen scripts for the same or similar medication from multiple doctors over a short period. In addition, the system does nothing to prevent drug abusers or criminal drug gangs from getting narcotics with stolen or forged prescription pads."

Schneiderman put forward legislation that would establish an online, "real-time" tracking system that would require physicians or their assistants to report prescriptions at the time they are issued and require pharmacists to review the system before dispensing a controlled substance. Advocates said the measures would prevent doctor shopping.

"As this report makes clear," said Assemb. Michael Cusick (D-Staten Island), who is sponsoring Schneiderman's bill, "the information gap between doctors and pharmacists allows addicts and abusers to slip through our regulatory cracks."

Cusick also sponsors a bill that would allow pharmacists access to the current drug monitoring program run by the state Health Department. For now, access is limited to doctors.

A "real-time," mandatory system, said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, head of the psychiatry department at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, "would provide doctors and pharmacists with centralized information to avoid over-prescribing, while at the same time identifying patients for treatment who seek to abuse prescription drugs."



In brief: Some findings in the state report


Prescriptions for oxycodone have risen "an astonishing 82 percent" across New York from 2007 to 2010.

Hydrocodone prescriptions have grown 17 percent over the same period.

Statewide, the number of prescriptions for all narcotic painkillers has risen about 36 percent, from 16.6 million to 22.5 million, over the same period.

Admissions to hospitals or other settings for narcotics abuse have soared correspondingly. In Nassau County, "crisis admissions" have risen 57 percent; in Suffolk County, 40 percent.

The number of annual deaths linked to "prescription opioids" more than tripled in Nassau County from 2004 to 2009, increasing from 28 to 90; the number fell to 75 in 2010. Oxycodone has contributed to more deaths than any other prescription opioid in Nassau, followed by methadone, then hydrocodone.

Prescription pain relievers account for a growing portion of accidental drug overdoses statewide -- 25 percent in 2009, compared to 16 percent in 2005.


Source: New York State Attorney General's office

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