The opioid addiction crisis continues to devastate New York families and communities. For far too many New Yorkers, addiction starts not in some dark alley, but in their medicine cabinet with prescription drugs they obtain legally or illegally.
Since 2013, we’ve taken meaningful steps to curb the opioid epidemic in New York, but now, a special interest group in Albany is trying to block the implementation of one of our most promising tools. We can’t let it succeed.
Every day, 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New York has felt this particularly hard — more than 19,300 New Yorkers were admitted into hospitals for treatment for opioid abuse in 2013.
One of the most successful programs New York has created is its groundbreaking Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act, or I-STOP, which requires physicians to consult a statewide database of a patient’s prescription history before prescribing opioids and other controlled substances. New York is the first state in the nation to adopt the reform.
The program’s main goal is simple: to arm doctors and pharmacists with the information they need to avoid prescribing painkillers to those who are abusing drugs, while ensuring that patients who truly need these medications get them.
Since the program went into effect in August 2013, I-STOP has been successful. So-called “doctor shopping” — where patients go from doctor-to-doctor getting multiple opioid prescriptions, which they can then use or sell — is down 90 percent. Now, if a patient goes to the doctor and tries to get oxycodone, the doctor can see if they already have ten other oxycodone prescriptions from other doctors.
At the end of this month, the program is set to make even greater progress, by virtually eliminating paper prescriptions and requiring nearly all prescriptions to be submitted to a secure online portal in real-time by “E-Prescribing.” Doing so would finally make it possible for medical professionals to spot troubling patterns and to send a clear and accurate prescription without handwriting errors, and would virtually eliminate the type of paper prescriptions that are easily forged by drug abusers.
However, some of the state’s most powerful special interests — including the Medical Society of State of New York and the NYS Health Facilities Association — are trying to stop our progress dead in its tracks. They’ve proposed legislation to gut these new prescription safeguards by exempting many doctors and nursing homes from the requirements — opening the door to exactly the kind of doctor-shopping I-STOP is designed to prevent.
These changes would undermine patient health and our state’s efforts to curb the opioid epidemic. The state database must be comprehensive to properly protect patients, doctors, pharmacists and those who suffer from addiction.
I-STOP — in collaboration with other efforts to cut off heroin trafficking and provide local law enforcement with lifesaving anti-overdose medications — is saving lives. New York is making progress in this crisis. In fact, led by Sens. Gillibrand and Schumer, the Senate recently passed the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which replicates elements of the I-STOP model nationwide.
Too many families have buried their loved ones who have overdosed. Too many good doctors have watched helplessly as their patients succumb to this terrible addiction. We need to build on our momentum in combating the scourge of addiction, not bow to the pressures of lobbyists seeking to reinstate the status quo, no matter the human cost. We owe nothing less to the thousands of New Yorkers struggling with opioid addiction and their families.
Eric T. Schneiderman is New York’s attorney general. Teri Knoll’s son, Tim, died at age 23 of a heart attack after years of addiction. Thomas Jan is a Massapequa doctor who specializes in pain management and addiction.