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A tiny ray of hope in deadly opioid wars

OxyContin pills are shown at a pharmacy in

OxyContin pills are shown at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. on Feb. 19, 2013. Credit: AP

The fact that the number of narcotic prescriptions filled on Long Island fell for a fourth straight year in 2016 is more the seed of good news than the harvest. It’s reasonable to hope the reduction will mean fewer people addicted to painkillers, heroin and other street opioids. But it doesn’t change the fact that overdose deaths are still increasing rapidly on Long Island, with almost 500 in 2016, and that the region is still struggling to respond.

In 2013, the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing, or I-STOP, went into effect in New York State to help combat an addiction problem that alarmed officials and addiction professionals. The law created a statewide database of past prescriptions that medical professionals had to check before prescribing narcotic painkillers, and then update afterward. The system was intended to cut down on addicts using multiple doctors and pharmacies, and to block the flow of prescription drugs to the black market.

It has worked, albeit slowly. Other new state laws, such as one limiting prescriptions for acute injuries to a seven-day supply, when enough for 30 days had been the norm, have helped, too. This year, such prescriptions are down 6.6 percent on Long Island, and a similar percentage statewide. But the shift, which has dried up the supply of pills obtained legally and driven up the prices of those obtained illegally, also has massively increased the market for the much-cheaper heroin, which is often laced with deadly hyperpowerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

From law enforcement to addiction prevention to addiction treatment, multiple battles are being fought. The reduction in filled narcotics prescriptions on Long Island is good news as this deadly serious war continues. — The editorial board