2012-08-31 / Top Stories

Cuomo Signs Aggressive New Prescription Drug Law

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation that will help the state crack down harder on prescription drug abuse.

The new law includes a series of provisions to overhaul the way prescription drugs are distributed and tracked in New York State, including enacting a “real time” prescription monitoring registry to provide timely and enhanced information to practitioners and pharmacists; requiring all prescriptions to be electronically transmitted; improving safeguards for the distribution of specific pre scription drugs that are prone to abuse; charging a workgroup of stakeholders with the responsibility to help guide the development of medical education courses and other public awareness measures regarding pain management and prescription drugs; and requiring the Department of Health to establish a safe disposal program for unused medications.

Illicit use of prescription medicine has become one of the nation’s fastest-growing drug problems. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 15,000 people die every year of overdoses due to prescription painkillers.

Creating a New and Updated Prescription Monitoring Program (I-STOP)

The new law requires the Department of Health (DOH)’s to update and modernize the Prescription Monitoring program (PMP) Registry to make it one of the best systems in the nation to monitor prescription drug abuse and to help the medical community provide better care. The new system will substantially decrease opportunities for “doctor shoppers” to illegally obtain prescriptions from multiple practitioners. The legislation requires enhancement and modernization of DOH’s secure prescription monitoring program registry, which will include information about dispensed controlled substances reported by pharmacies on a “real time” basis, to effectively stop doctor shopping and combat the circulation of illegally-obtained prescription drugs.

The PMP Registry will be secure and easily accessible by practitioners and pharmacists, allowing them to view their patients’ controlled substance history. In addition, this legislation strikes the right balance by requiring health care practitioners to consult the PMP Registry before prescribing or dispensing the controlled substances that are most prone to abuse and diversion, while exempting practitioners from consulting in specific situations in order to protect patient access to needed medications. Moreover, pharmacists, for the first time, will now be able to consult the PMP Registry before dispensing a controlled substance.

Mandating Electronic Prescribing of Controlled Substances

The new law will make New York a national leader by being one of the first states to move from paper prescriptions to a system mandating the electronic prescribing (e-prescribing) for all controlled substances with limited exceptions. E-prescribing is critical to help to eliminate diversion that results from the alteration, forgery, or theft of prescription paper.

In addition, electronic prescribing enhances patient care by minimizing medication errors due to misinterpretations of handwriting on written prescriptions. It is estimated that 20 percent of the approximately 7,000 annual deaths caused by medication errors are attributable to misinterpretations of written prescriptions. Moreover, medication errors are estimated to cost the nation’s health care system over $70 billion each year. In New York, adverse drug events due to errors in written and oral prescriptions carry an annual cost to the health care system of approximately $130 million.

E-prescribing will also improve the efficiency of practitioners and pharmacies. Approximately 30 percent of prescriptions require pharmacists to call physicians due to poor handwriting on prescription forms. Additionally, e-prescribing is also more convenient for consumers, who would otherwise need to either wait at the pharmacy for a prescription to be filled, or make separate trips to drop off the prescription form and then pick up the medication.

E-prescribing of controlled substances will ensure that controlled substance transactions are transmitted in a secure, encrypted fashion to their intended recipient.

Updating the Controlled Substance Schedules to Stop Abuse of Certain Drugs, While Protecting Patient Access

The new law combats prescription drug abuse by removing hydrocodone from Schedule III and placing it on Schedule II regardless of formulation. Hydrocodone is among the most abused and diverted prescription medications. In New York, last year, over 4.3 million hydrocodone prescriptions were filled — the most in the state. Nationally, eight percent of all high school seniors used hydrocodone for non-medical purpose. In 2009 alone, there were over 86,000 emergency room visits resulting from the non-medical use of hydrocodone.

Placing hydrocodone on Schedule II will control abuse by eliminating automatic refills and, in general, by limiting the amount prescribed or dispensed to a maximum 30-day supply. However, to protect legitimate access for those patients who need these drugs, the bill will not alter a practitioner’s ability under existing regulations to prescribe a supply of up to 90 days if he, or she, indicates on the face of the prescription that the patient has one of several enumerated conditions, including chronic pain.

The new law will also add another drug, tramadol, to Schedule IV. Tramadol is a painkiller and is viewed as a drug of concern by the DEA.

Improving Education and Awareness of Prescribers to Stem the Tide of Prescription Drug Abuse

According to the CDC, a significant percent of abused medications are prescribed to the person that abuses them.

Creating a Safe Disposal Program to Safely Dispose of Prescription Drugs.

Recognizing that more than 70 percent of the abused prescription medications are obtained from friends or relatives, this legislation requires DOH to institute a program for the safe disposal of unused controlled substances by consumers.

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