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Central New York Has Experienced Historic Heroin Busts, Including Major Bust Just Last Week & Dozens of Prescription Drug-Related Crimes in Recent Months – Hydrocodone & Opioids Are Often at the Root of This Epidemic & Are Among Most Highly Abused and Widely Prescribed Drugs

Schumer Will Push to Reclassify Hydrocodone As Schedule II Drug, Due to Its High Risk for Abuse & Addiction – This Would Put Stronger Restrictions on Prescribing & Storing These Substances

Schumer: Key to Stopping Growing Heroin Use in Central NY is Stopping Original Use of Over-Prescribed Painkillers


Today, at Crouse Hospital, in an effort to help combat an unprecedented spike in prescription drug abuse and too-often related heroin use in the Central New York, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer launched a campaign to keep painkillers that contain hydrocodone out of the wrong hands. Studies have shown that there is a significant subset of heroin users who become addicted first to hydrocodone and opioids. In efforts to obtain a less expensive alternative to illicit prescription bills, too many hydrocodone users switch over to heroin.

Syracuse and Central New York have not been spared: the Upstate Poison Control Center documented 492 cases of overdoses, abuse and misuse of prescription painkillers in 2011 in Onondaga, Oswego, Madison and Cayuga Counties. In fact, between 2010 and 2012, overdose, misuse and abuse are up over 36% in Onondaga County alone. What’s more, there have been a number of large-scale heroin busts in Central New York in recent years. Schumer also highlighted that at any given time, Crouse Hospital’s substance abuse treatment program provides services for over 500 patients from Upstate New York who are addicted to heroin and opioid painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone, and there is always a full treatment waiting list. Schumer therefore announce his bipartisan plan, the Safe Prescribing Act of 2013 to reclassify hydrocodone as a Schedule II controlled substance – which would require a written or electronic prescription that must be signed by the practitioner, among other stricter requirements to authorize the use of this drug. Schumer’s plan would include a number of other important features to combat this epidemic and still balance the needs of the medical community, legitimate users of such medications, and manufacturers.

“Every minute that the federal government waits to keep lethal prescription drugs from falling in the wrong hands, is another minute that families could suffer from the hydrocodone epidemic that too often imprisons or even kills Central New Yorkers,” said Schumer. “There have been too many recent crimes surrounding prescription drugs and subsequent heroin use in the Syracuse region to ignore, and it’s time to do more to balance the needs of patients that rely on these drugs for pain treatment, with those who are putting their lives and the surrounding community at risk.


Schumer continued, “Hydrocodone can be a deadly substance on its own, and it can often lead users to heroin for a cheaper high and that is why I am launching a plan to make hydrocodone a Schedule II drug to help close the floodgates of addiction and drug-related crime in Central New York.”


Schumer was joined by members of the community that have been directly impacted by this epidemic, including Crouse Hospital staff members who run the Chemical Dependency Program and other Crouse officials, representatives from Upstate Poison Control,  members of the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office and other stakeholders.


Hydrocodone is among the most widely prescribed drugs in New York and the country, has rapidly increased in abuse levels, and is highly dangerous. The Upstate New York Poison Control Center reported that over 12,800 cases of prescription drug abuse. They estimate that across their 54 county region, abuse is up over 150%. In 2012, Upstate Poison Control accounted for 592 cases of prescription drug overdose and misuse across Onondaga, Madison, Oswego and Cayuga counties. Schumer noted that in 2011, the Upstate New York Poison Control Center reported In Central New York there were 492 reported cases of prescription drug abuse in 2011, up from approximately 300 cases in 2007. At the same time, as the Syracuse Post-Standard reports, prescriptions for hydrocodone rose to 274,293 in 2011, up from 181,993 in 2007. According to Crouse Hospital’s Chemical Dependency program, between 2010 and 2012, Onondaga County alone has seen a 36% increase in intentional, prescription drug abuse. The numbers for 2013 are already over 200 cases.


Over the past year, Schumer has worked closely and effectively with the FDA to help stem the abuse of hydrocodone, and highlighted the importance of policy that strikes a balance between appropriate access to pain relief medications, and preventing prescription drugs from getting in the wrong hands.


Often, prescription drugs serve as a gateway for other illegal drugs. In February 2013, the Center for Disease Control unveiled a study that showed a spike in heroin use and overdose death in recent years, and evidence suggests that this is a result of increases in nonmedical use of opioid pain relievers and nonmedical users transition to heroin use. The CDC studied data from the 2002 to 2004 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health as compared to the 2008 through 2010 surveys to examine the patterns of heroin use and the increase in recent years. There was a spike in heroin use among non-prescription drug abusers between 2002-2004 and 2008-2010, with most reporting nonmedical use of hydrocodone/opioid pain relievers before initiating heroin. The study found rate of subsequent heroin use from pills has increased nationally about 20 percent since 2004.


In response to the recent scourge of hydrocodone abuse in Syracuse and all of Central New York, Schumer is pushing the Safe Prescribing Act of 2013 to reclassify hydrocodone as a Schedule II drug. Schumer is cosponsoring this bipartisan legislation with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). These three senators, along with a larger bipartisan group, argue that hydrocodone was originally misclassified as a Schedule III drug. Because of its’ highly addictive properties, it is better classified as a Schedule II narcotic. Much of it is prescribed for pain that accompanies work-related injuries. Under the new restrictions of The Safe Prescribing Act of 2013, a written prescription or electronic prescription would be required for drugs containing hydrocodone signed by the practitioner. The refilling of a prescription for a controlled substance listed in Schedule II is prohibited, therefore a new prescription must be issued each time a patient needs a refill. Each prescription for these drugs cannot exceed a 30-day supply. When issuing multiple prescriptions for Schedule II substances, an individual practitioner may issue a maximum of three prescriptions at once, authorizing the patient to receive a total of up to a 90-day supply of a Schedule II controlled substance. Multiple prescription are only acceptable provided several conditions, including a legitimate medical purpose for each drug, written instructions on each prescription, determination that undue risk of abuse is not created, and permissibility under state law.


The legislation would also require the GAO to conduct an oversight study on how this change impacts legitimate use of pain medication, particularly for patients in rural areas and nursing homes. Schumer noted that while New York State considers hydrocodone a Schedule II narcotic, a federal law is critical to ensure that abusers or dealers cannot easily obtain the drug from neighboring states. 


Schumer acknowledged that many patients seek the legitimate use of hydrocodone for pain management, and access for those individuals should be preserved. However, it is among some of the most highly abused substances, and can cause serious health conditions, and often death, as a result. In addition to serving as a potential catalyst of chronic dependence, crime and suicide, hydrocodone spurs a number of serious health side effects, including nausea, constipation, urinary retention and in higher amounts, depressed respiration. While long-term use can lead to dependence and addiction, withdrawal symptoms include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, and vomiting. Severe liver damage can occur when large doses of hydrocodone in combination with acetaminophen, as is commonly practiced.


Schumer pointed to a recent scourge of hydrocodone and heroin abuse in Central New York as he unveiled his plan to crack down on the opiate epidemic that is sweeping the state:


·         According to Upstate Poison Control, there were 592 cases of prescription drug overdose and misuse across Onondaga, Madison, Oswego and Cayuga counties in 2012. Numbers for 2013 are currently on par to exceed 2012 figures, similar to the increasing trends of the last several years.

·         Last week, eleven Syracuse area residents were arrested in a drug raid for drug trafficking. This massive bust revealed a large scale drug network that included the distribution and transportation of cocaine and heroin.

·         In February of this year, police in Cayuga County busted another heroin-ring, charging nearly a dozen people across Central New York with trafficking the drug.

·         In May 2012, nearly 20 Central New York residents, 13 from Syracuse, were busted for a drug ring that included large amounts of heroin and prescription drugs.

·         In April 2012, three Cayuga County residents were arrested after police seized 250 bags of heroin from a drug operation they were working.

·         In October 2012, Syracuse police conducted a raid that led to the arrest of numerous local individuals and the discovery of more than 500 bags of heroin.  

·         At the end of 2011, federal authorities made public the largest heroin smuggling operation they have ever seen in the Syracuse area. The arrests were made in the Syracuse suburb of Solvay: The Drug Enforcement Agency testified that hundreds of bags of heroin were being moved out of an apartment building on Charles Avenue in Solvay every day for almost a year.

·         One local woman was addicted to prescription drugs and heroin, and ultimately died of a heroin overdose in February 2011.

·         Crouse Hospital’s treatment program has treated over 500 patients from Upstate New York that are addicted to heroin and opioid painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone, and there is a treatment waiting list for this year.


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