IN THE NEWS: Staten Island Advance - Staten Island lawmakers seek to stem Rx drug epidemic in borough, state

Andrew J Lanza

June 15, 2011

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- State lawmakers are taking action to stem the prescription drug-abuse epidemic by creating a real-time database to track the distribution of prescription drugs to help prevent illicit trafficking of powerful painkillers like oxycodone.

The bill was formally introduced Tuesday by state Sen. Andrew J. Lanza and Assemblyman Michael Cusick.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced legislation to create an online system for doctors and pharmacists to report and monitor each time a prescription is issued or dispensed.

Prescriptions for oxycodone, the powerful painkiller in brand-name drugs like Percodet, soared 66 percent in the city between 2007 and 2009.

An ongoing investigation by the Advance has shown that Staten Island has the highest per-capita rate of painkiller prescriptions. The most popular is Roxicodone, the brand name pill that comes in various doses The 30 milligram version is sold on the street for $20 to $30 per pill.

The Advance also revealed that the Island leads in the city in prescription drug deaths. Following those reports, a study by the city Health Department showed that a prescription drug overdose kills one Staten Islander an average of every 13 days.

The data showed 28 Island residents died of opioid overdoses in 2009. Opioids include the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone.

That number means that in the six to eight weeks it takes for an autopsy to confirm that one person has perished of a drug overdose, at least three more will die.

Drug deaths overall have been on the decline over the past five years, except in the area of prescription drugs, said Daliah Heller, assistant commissioner for the Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Use Prevention, Care and Treatment for the city Health Department.

"There's more prescription opioids involved in deaths, and less heroin involved in deaths, and less cocaine involved in deaths," she said when the study was released last month, adding that citywide, heroin still tops prescription opioids in overdose deaths.

However, that's not true of Staten Island, which saw 16 heroin overdose deaths in 2009. And in the vast majority of cases, prescription drug overdose deaths involve the person mixing different types of substances, Ms. Heller said -- with half of those deaths involving alcohol.

The borough's district attorney, Dan Donovan, praised the database legislation, but said it won't do anything to stop addicts from crossing state lines to fill prescriptions. He says a federal solution for reporting is needed.
Published: Wednesday, June 15, 2011, 10:05 AM     Updated: Wednesday, June 15, 2011, 10:31
Thomas Checchi Staten Island Advance