Hydromorphone, commonly known by the brand name Dilaudid, is photographed...

Hydromorphone, commonly known by the brand name Dilaudid, is photographed at the Rockland County District Attorney's office in evidence bags containing illicit drugs, along with prescription narcotics, seized during investigations. (March 22, 2013) Credit: Xavier Mascarenas

Legislation introduced in Congress last month could reduce the rate of overdose deaths on Long Island and across the country, according to treatment experts and drug-policy makers.

The bill would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to refuse approval of any new opioid painkiller that does not use tamper-resistant formulas -- a safeguard experts say has already reduced abuse of OxyContin in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The Stop Tampering of Prescription Pills Act would apply to generic opioids now on the market.

Tamper-resistant drugs make it more difficult for abusers to crush or melt opioids for snorting or injection, experts said. They can be manufactured in a way that makes them extremely difficult to break and which causes them to revert to a lumpy, uninjectable substance when melted.

"Having the abuse deterrent formula as the only formula available makes a lot of sense," R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told reporters at the National Prescription Drug Abuse Summit in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday.

Statistics compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 38,329 people died in 2010 from drug overdoses in the United States -- more than from motor vehicle crashes. Prescription opioids were blamed for 16,651 of those deaths, according to the CDC.

Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, hailed the legislation. "Here is a concrete way to put a sizable dent in the problem" on Long Island, he said.

Addressing the drug abuse summit, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said tamper-resistant technologies are still being identified and tested "to make sure that they work." New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is today's keynote speaker.

The legislation, introduced by Reps. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and William Keating (D-Mass.), would make some exceptions for opioids needed for end-of-life care, or for which there are no tamper-resistant versions.

"This will save lives," Rogers said at the conference. "If the FDA won't act, then Congress will."

Another measure aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic -- the Safe Prescribing Act of 2013 -- was introduced last month. It would place tighter restrictions on the painkiller hydrocodone.

Those restrictions were implemented in New York last month. "We already require childproof packaging, which has saved lives," said Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington). "Why not require tamper-proof pills?"

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