ALBANY -- State lawmakers split Monday on whether New York should require "real time" tracking of narcotic-painkiller prescriptions as they are written and filled to prevent addicts from going doctor to doctor, or pharmacy to pharmacy, to accumulate drugs.
The issue emerged as the Republican-led Senate began tackling the problem of narcotic-painkiller abuse, passing a bill to criminalize illegal sales -- so-called "pill mills" -- and to reclassify hydrocodone to the same group as oxycodone. The latter provision would effectively ban automatic refills and tighten storage requirements.
"Abuse of controlled prescription drugs is one of New York's major public health problems, and it is growing at an alarming rate," said Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), chairman of the Senate Health Committee. "We . . . feel that we have to act now to control this growing problem."
However, one noticeable piece was missing from the Senate package: a bill to require an Internet-based process to track prescriptions instantaneously. Numerous legislators and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman favor a "real time" approach to prevent what's called "doctor shopping."
Hannon said rather than introduce a new system, he'd rather tweak the current state Health Department database. Currently, the state updates its prescription database monthly but will soon be able to do it on a daily basis, he said.
"That would be the best way to get realistic, quick reporting of data to physicians and to pharmacies," Hannon said.
Some Democrats, pharmacists and activists said daily reports would be OK -- but they'd still prefer instant updates.
"Because of the growing problem, I think at this point what's needed is 'real time' " updates, said Assemb. Michael Cusick (D-Staten Island), who sponsors a bill establishing an Internet tracking system.
At a hearing earlier Monday, John McDonald, a Capital Region pharmacist, said monthly updates were inadequate. He said drugstores are able to quickly track prescriptions purchased through insurance but they can't with cash purchases.
"I don't get a lot of cash, but most of my cash is for controlled substances," McDonald said. "What does that tell you?"
Last year on Long Island, two cases in which the robbers were after prescription painkillers led to several deaths.
Parents of young adults who died after becoming addicted to painkillers pressed lawmakers to do more. "We have to get the control back, of controlled substances," said Teri Kroll, of Copiague whose son, Tim, 23, died of heart attack after years of addiction.Avi Israel, a North Buffalo resident whose addicted son committed suicide, pressed lawmakers and doctors to adopt a real-time system.
"If you have data available in real time, that would seem to be the answer," Israel said.
The state Senate passed a series of measures yesterday that would:
Tighten the control of hydrocodone and tramadol, effectively eliminating automatic refills and requiring more secure storage at medical facilities.
Increase penalties for physicians and pharmacists who illegally divert prescription drugs, trying to reduce the black market for medications.
Criminalize the illegal sale of a controlled substance to practitioners operating "pill mills" that fuel the black market.
Declare April 28 as "Prescription Drug Take Back Day," allowing patients to return unused and expired
medications. -- Yancey Roy