Last week in the Senate, we passed what may be considered the signature piece of legislation for this legislative session – the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act (I-STOP), a bill I was proud to have co-sponsored. Simply put, with the passage of this bill, we have taken an all important first step in comprehensively rolling back the prescription drug abuse epidemic that has plagued families and communities throughout New York State, but no one has felt it harder than us on Long Island.
Let me share some of the disturbing statistics:
• In 2010, over 22 million prescriptions for painkilling drugs were written in New York State! That’s a stunning figure in a state with a population of about 19.5 million.
• According to our Attorney General, prescriptions for Oxycodone alone have swelled by a remarkable 82% from 2007 to 2010.
• Prescription painkillers cause about 15,000 deaths and 475,000 emergency room visits a year, killing more people than car accidents.
• Just in New York, abuse of the opiates Methadone, Oxycodone and Hydrocodone combined for more than 110,000 emergency room visits.
• According to the General Accounting Office of the federal government, prescription drug abuse is also costing taxpayers millions in Medicaid fraud through a practice known as "doctor-shopping" that allows purchasers to exceed the legal limit of drugs. These drugs are later sold on the streets.
• A full 19% of U.S. teenagers – roughly 4.5 million – reported taking prescription painkillers to get high.
• 1.4 million blank prescription forms have been stolen in New York since 2008.
Many don’t realize that we have a devastating drug epidemic on our hands that is totally legal – it involves the abuse of prescription drugs. Unlike other addictions, this doesn’t affect a confined corner of our society. It touches everyone, young and old, from every social and economic background. If usage rates for any illegal substance like cocaine or heroin were skyrocketing as fast as these, there’d be a national outcry and millions of dollars made available to combat it, but because they are legal drugs, the destruction has been mostly ignored. Until now.
New York is responding with the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing (I-STOP), a “real-time” tracking system. The bill requires the creation of an online database that will record every prescription for a controlled substance written in our state within 24 hours, with a goal of shortening that gap as it’s implemented. Crucial to the new system is that both doctors and pharmacists are mandated to check it before writing and filling a new prescription. Now they can determine almost immediately if someone is “doctor shopping” to load up on prescriptions. This bill essentially cuts off the supply that has made addicts of some of the members of our communities. It will be accessible to law enforcement as well. No other state has anything like this yet, but we’re hoping to be a model for efforts elsewhere.
The bill also passed in the Assembly and, at a time when it’s hard to reach consensus on anything substantive and impossible to have unanimity, this bill passed unanimously in both the Senate and the Assembly.
Of course, there are still kinks to work out and it is a first step but turning the corner on the tragedy of prescription drug abuse – losing our friends, brothers, sisters, and even parents – is now a reality. With this bill we have forced accountability and transparency on the system by requiring our healthcare providers to coordinate their efforts. No more doctor shopping. No more reckless and irresponsible prescribing. Together, we are helping to close the door on the rampant abuse of prescription drugs.
Simply put, this bill, when signed into law, will save lives.
Jack Martins represents New York's seventh senatorial district.