August 30, 2013

Editorial: Tracking prescriptions


---- — Read the Press-Republican’s police and court stories every day, and before long you’ll notice that prescription-drug abuse is out of control around here — and just about everywhere else, for that matter.

Just this Wednesday, State Police rounded up almost 30 suspects from the Malone area on drug-related charges, many of those allegedly connected with prescription medication.

Abusers are stealing from relatives and neighbors. Some are assaulting people just to get their hands on the victims’ drugs, which have been legally prescribed. It’s a sad and disturbing trend.

Law enforcement has been vigilant and aggressive, with arrests achieved at an admirable rate. But the police and prosecutors acknowledge they can’t keep up with the flow of drugs.

New York — with the backing of police and district attorneys across the state, including those from our area — has enacted a law that promises to put a dent in the burgeoning problem.

The Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing (I-STOP) Act is a national model for other states and Congress to follow to curb the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem. It had been approved earlier this year in New York and just this week started to be implemented.

Here is what a news release from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office has to say: “I-STOP sets up a real-time database that tracks every prescription for opioid (mind-altering) pills that gets filled in New York state. Starting (this week), doctors are required under the law to consult that database before writing any prescriptions for a Schedule II, III or IV controlled substance, including narcotic painkillers.

“New York is now the only state in the country with such a verification requirement. This critical tool will provide medical professionals with the information necessary to detect doctor-shoppers and better serve patients at risk of addiction.

“This information will also serve to avoid potentially dangerous drug interactions,” the release said.

Doctor shopping has long been cited as a way for abusers to find physicians inclined to prescribe the drugs they crave, and legally. The doctor, in the past, might not have known that the person had already been prescribed drugs elsewhere for the same “condition.”

This new initiative is aimed at stopping that practice, but it obviously will impose new responsibilities on all doctors. Pharmacists will also become more involved. They will have to report in real time each prescription they fill for a Schedule II, III, IV or V drug and consult the database before filling any prescriptions.

No one can say for sure how well the new law will work, but it takes a long stride toward making it more difficult for drug abusers and dealers to acquire substances that are supposed to be tightly controlled by law.