The Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act, known as I-STOP, starts today, Aug. 27. The new state law, introduced and championed by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, is designed to help doctors and pharmacists prevent prescription drug abuse. I-STOP employs a database to turn up addicts who are “doctor shopping” to get multiple prescriptions for drugs, especially opiates.
The risk of prescription drug abuse is real. According to a 2011 report by the Centers for Disease Control, poisoning — often a result of overdoses, mostly from prescription drugs — is now the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.
The Editorial Board has supported I-STOP. The abuse of prescription drugs often serves as a gateway to heroin abuse; the street drug is cheaper than many of the black-market sold prescription medications that start and feed many people’s addictions. We’ve seen the painful results of such addiction in our communities far too often.
Many doctors have found fault with the legislation. Dr. Jeffrey Oppenheim, a neurosurgeon who heads Rockland’s Board of Health and serves as the Village of Montebello’s mayor, outlined his concerns in a Community View, “I-STOP carries unintended consequences.” Read it here.
He describes I-STOP as a state government-issued “unfunded mandate to every physician that will serve as a disincentive to provide you with appropriate prescriptions.” The cost to physicians is not his only concern. Dr. Oppenheim also points out that the database, which would carry private medical information about a patient, could be accessible to doctors, their staff, and he wonders, who else?
One of Oppenheim’s concerns must gain the attention of policymakers: That is, what happens if I-STOP is successful, and stems the flow of prescription drugs to abusers?
… common sense dictates that narcotic addicts … will turn to expensive street drugs to feed their habits. This may result in a resurgence of crime, as the addicts will need to find fast cash. Drug dealers and criminals will proliferate in such an environment. The state should plan for better treatment alternatives and crime prevention programs before cutting off addicts from their drugs.
The need for attention to prescription drug abuse, and I-STOP, is demonstrated by the grim statistics, and growing deaths, from prescription drugs and the sequel, heroin.
Local statistics show the trend: In Westchester alone, prescriptions for oxycodone increased 31 percent between 2008 and 2010; prescriptions for zolpidem (Ambien) jumped 25 percent.
While the epidemic has fed high-profile robbery-homicides at pharmacies by those looking to feed their addiction — four were killed in a siege of a Long Island pharmacy in 2011 that also netted 10,000 hydrocodone pills — 70 percent of teen abusers get their drugs without such drama: they raid the family medicine cabinet. That’s why the simplest measure — cleaning out medicine cabinets and properly disposing of unused drugs — remains effective. (Another National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is coming up Oct. 26.)
As Attorney General Schneiderman said of prescription drug abuse:
It’s the fastest growing drug problem in our state and in the country … They’re the drugs of choice for a whole new generation of abusers. What’s at stake here is thousands of lives, billions of dollars in health care costs.
File photo/The Journal News: A trash bag full of unused or expired prescription drugs turned in to the drug enforcement officials in White Plains.