FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 11, 2011
SCHUMER ANNOUNCES MAJOR PUSH TO COMBAT PHARMA-THEFT AND EPIDEMIC OF VICODIN, OXYCONTIN, & OTHER PRESCRIPTION DRUG ABUSE IN THE CAPITAL REGION – THE FASTEST GROWING DRUG PROBLEM IN THE AREA
Upstate Poison Control Center Predicts Nearly 450 Cases Of Prescription Drug Abuse In Albany, Saratoga, Schenectady, and Rensselaer Counties In 2011
Abuse of Prescription Painkillers Has Been Classified as an Epidemic By the CDC; Greatest Drug Problem We’re Currently Facing
Schumer Plan Would Address Overprescribing of Addictive Narcotics, Increase Penalties for Pharma-Theft, and Enhance State Databases to Combat Doctor Shopping
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that he is making a major push to see his ongoing efforts to combat pharmaceutical theft and prescription narcotics addiction in New York and the country passed into law. Schumer has been working for several months to craft a plan that addresses the growing threat of pharma-theft and the epidemic of prescription drug abuse. Standing at Marra’s Pharmacy in Cohoes, Schumer described his plan which calls for reining in the over-prescribing of highly addictive narcotics like Oxycontin and Vicodin, increasing the penalties of those involved in the theft and distribution of prescription narcotics, and enhancing state-based prescription drug surveillance programs. In light of new statistics from the Upstate Poison Control Center that predict a rash of hundreds of prescription drug abuse cases, and a recent arrest of 13 people in Warren County for possessing and selling prescription drugs, Schumer believes it is vital to put in place a comprehensive approach to combating the scourge of prescription narcotics that focuses on prevention, deterrence and oversight.
“The illegal use and sale of prescription drugs is wreaking havoc on our Capital Region communities and we must quickly stamp out the root causes of this epidemic by addressing all of the contributing factors,” said Schumer. “Prescription drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin, and the growing violence that results from addiction to these drugs and their criminal sale, is becoming reminiscent of the crack epidemic of the 1980s and early 1990s. It’s time to put a stop to it.”
The abuse of prescription painkillers has rapidly become one of the most severe drug-related epidemics in the United States. According to recent reports by the CDC, prescription drugs are the second most commonly abused substance in the entire country, ahead of heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine. From 1998 to 2008, there was a 400 percent increase in substance abuse treatment program admissions among painkiller abusers ages 12 and older, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Schumer announced his push alongside Assemblyman Ron Canestrari, Acting Sheriff Craig Apple and County Executive Mike Breslin. New statistics from the Upstate Poison Control Center predict a rash of prescription drug abuse cases in the Capital Region. Based on the previous years’ data, as well as recent trends amongst different age groups, the Upstate Poison Control Center anticipates over 450 cases of prescription drug abuse in 2011. This includes about 168 in Albany County, 84 in Saratoga County, 100 in Schenectady County, and 96 in Rensselaer County. Schumer's announcement comes just days after the Warren County Sheriff's Department, through a partnership with the Drug Enforcement Agency's Albany Tactical Division, broke up multiple prescription drug rings and charged 13 people with selling or possessing illegal prescription medications.
Schumer is co-sponsoring legislation, with Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), that would require medical professionals to participate in specialized training to prescribe drugs like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and other opiate-based narcotics. The plan would first work to prevent addiction to these dangerous drugs by addressing the overprescribing of highly addictive narcotics by local doctors. The training would help doctors better identify patients vulnerable to addiction and lay out options for pain management without the use of opiate narcotics. That would in turn reduce the number of inappropriate prescriptions and start to tackle the problem of overuse of pain medication.
One major factor in the prescription painkiller epidemic is the widespread availability of narcotic medications due to over-prescription. A total of 257 million narcotic painkiller prescriptions were dispensed in 2009 – a 48 percent increase compared with figures for 2000, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Many doctors who prescribe these narcotics do not have training in identifying prescription drug abuse. Under current law, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) doesn’t have a training requirement for obtaining a license to dispense the most addictive prescription drugs. Under this new bill, prescribers will need to receive education on clinical standards on safe pain management, as well as the early warning signs of addiction, to prescribe controlled substances.
Secondly, as part of an effort to crack down on prescription drug theft in New York, Schumer in March introduced legislation that would increase sentences for robbing pharmacies of controlled substances and increase sentences for the theft of medical products and the transportation and storage of stolen medical products. Schumer’s legislation would enhance penalties for stolen medical product “fences,” including individuals and organizations who knowingly obtain stolen products for resale into the supply chain. The legislation increases sentences when harm occurs or trust is broken – in other words, where the defendant is employed by an organization in the supply chain or where there was a death as the result of ingestion of a stolen substance. Schumer’s legislation would double the penalty for prescription drugs related crimes from 10 years in prison to 20 and also raise the available sentence for pharmacy robberies.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, armed pharmacy robberies rose 81 percent nationally between 2006 and 2010 and the number of armed robberies in New York has increased from 2 in 2006 to 28 in 2010. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), the amount of Controlled Prescription Drugs (CPDs) stolen in armed robberies doubled from more than 500,000 milliliters to nearly 1.1 million in 2007, while the amount lost in transit increased from more than 1.4 million milliliters in 2003 to more than 2.5 million in 2007.
Lastly, as part of the Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 2011 Schumer is co-sponsoring with Senator Rockefeller, up to $25 million will be made available to upgrade state monitoring programs to ensure information on doctor shopping can be shared across state lines. Currently, 38 states including New York have prescription drug monitoring programs. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is seeking to enhance New York’s surveillance program by creating a real-time monitoring component to the database. Schumer’s legislation would complement an enhanced monitoring system in New York by making the information obtained in NY available to officials in surrounding states, like New Jersey and Connecticut, and vice versa. It would also provide funding to ensure that local pharmacies have easier access to these databases.
Schumer applauded Richard S. Hartunian, United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York, for his June “New York Rx Summit”, which brought together leaders and experts in public health, law enforcement, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, and education to consider the nature and scope of the prescription drug problem in New York, and strategies to address it. Schumer noted that this marks a high level of concern from law enforcement on all levels, and highlights the need for a multi-pronged approach to deter the rash of prescription drug cases hitting the state.
Earlier this year, Schumer criticized an effort by Florida Governor Rick Scott for his decision to scrap the state’s planned prescription drug surveillance program. Schumer noted that Florida is the number one hub in the country for trafficking in prescription drugs to other parts of the country. Its reputation has become so notorious that law enforcement officials refer to the prescription drug trade coming out of Florida as the ‘Flamingo Express.’
In addition to the three-point legislative approach to combating prescription drug abuse, Schumer called for a crackdown on online pharmacies that illegally sell prescription drugs to customers without a prescription from a doctor. The Senator called on the United States Justice Department (DOJ) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to immediately begin shutting down these sites. Additionally, Schumer is asking major credit card companies and wire transfer services to block payments to illegal prescription drug websites. The call comes in the wake of new research that found that the rise of these rogue online pharmacies is directly linked to increased prescription drug abuse in the United States. Kovacs, a Long Island student attending Binghamton was purchasing drugs from multiple online distributors where he bought Adderall and Xanax. Steven graduated Binghamton University with the highest honors and had received a full scholarship to obtain his Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee. His untimely and tragic death demonstrates the breadth and scope of the prescription drug epidemic, a scourge that hasn’t spared even the best and brightest young people in the country.
“This new war on prescription narcotics requires we utilize every tool at our disposal to beat back this scourge on our communities,” continued Schumer. “We must act to prevent these dangerous drugs from being overly prescribed, punish those involved in their theft and distribution, and provide law enforcement with the tools they need for greater oversight of their sale.”