Prescription Drug Abuses: I-STOP Can Help – Poughkeepsie Journal Editorial

11:25 PM, May 30, 2012 PoughkeepsieJournal.com

When members of massive drug rings are brought to justice, law enforcement officers typically cart out all the heroin, cocaine and marijuana recovered during the bust for all the public to see.

But these days, agents are sometimes likely to find mounds of prescription drugs in the trafficking mix, another sign of an undeniable problem that has become an “epidemic,” in the words of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

To that end, the attorney general is pushing for the creation of Internet-based system to connect doctors and pharmacists to a “real-time” database that would track the prescriptions being doled out, so abuses of the system can be caught immediately.

“This is the fastest-growing drug problem in New York and in the United States,” Schneiderman told the Poughkeepsie Journal Editorial Board last week.

The Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing (or I-STOP) initiative has received support from elected officials, health-care experts and law enforcement agencies, but it still needs to be approved by the state Legislature to be enacted.

Lawmakers are working on doing that, but they have to iron out several complications, including what list of drugs would be included in the database, and the procedures doctors and pharmacists and others would have to follow to ensure the information was up-to-date and accurate and not too time-consuming.

But the creation of such a dependable, timely database is clearly necessary. The attorney general recently released a report showing the alarming escalation of prescription drug abuse across New York — and the nation. Statewide, the number of prescriptions for all narcotic painkillers has increased by astonishing amount — by 6 million, from 16.6 million in 2007 to nearly 22.5 million in 2010. The number of those seeking treatment for prescription drug abuse, as well as the number of deadly overdoses, is on the rise as well.

Schneiderman pointed out that these drugs are not being manufactured in someone’s basement or being grown in the backyard; “they are coming through the legitimate pipeline.”

To illustrate this point, the attorney general used the recent arrests of members of a violent narcotics network distributing massive quantities of cocaine and heroin from New York City to Vermont and throughout the mid-Hudson Valley. Members also were found in possession of the prescription drugs hydrocodone and oxycodone.

He also pointed to the recent conviction of a Bronx woman who forged more then 250 prescriptions — and had the capacity to forge thousands more — and arranged for these prescriptions to be filled at pharmacies throughout the state. The attorney general says if I-STOP had been in place, it would have invalidated the woman’s prescriptions, stopping this supply of addictive painkillers from being illegally distributed.

While doctors now can voluntarily report prescriptions to a state Health Department database, New York is one of only eight states that do not require at least weekly reporting, and pharmacists are not part of the system. Thus, doctors and pharmacies here have no way of knowing whether they are being used to over-prescribe drugs to an addict — or whether drug traffickers are using them for their illegal business.

The numbers show prescription drug abuse is, indeed, an “epidemic.” I-Stop would not be a cure-all, but it would provide a valuable weapon to identify flagrant abuses and could ultimately save lives. The state has plenty of good reasons to give this a try.

To illustrate this point, the attorney general used the recent arrests of members of a violent narcotics network distributing massive quantities of cocaine and heroin from New York City to Vermont and throughout the mid-Hudson Valley. Members also were found in possession of the prescription drugs hydrocodone and oxycodone.

He also pointed to the recent conviction of a Bronx woman who forged more then 250 prescriptions — and had the capacity to forge thousands more — and arranged for these prescriptions to be filled at pharmacies throughout the state. The attorney general says if I-STOP had been in place, it would have invalidated the woman’s prescriptions, stopping this supply of addictive painkillers from being illegally distributed.

While doctors now can voluntarily report prescriptions to a state Health Department database, New York is one of only eight states that do not require at least weekly reporting, and pharmacists are not part of the system. Thus, doctors and pharmacies here have no way of knowing whether they are being used to over-prescribe drugs to an addict — or whether drug traffickers are using them for their illegal business.

The numbers show prescription drug abuse is, indeed, an “epidemic.” I-Stop would not be a cure-all, but it would provide a valuable weapon to identify flagrant abuses and could ultimately save lives. The state has plenty of good reasons to give this a try.

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