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brbrLong Island Has Experienced Growing Heroin Use and Overdoses Hydrocodone Opioids Are Often at the Root of This Epidemic Are Among Most Highly Abused and Widely Prescribed DrugsbrbrSchumer 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 SubstancesbrbrSchumer: Key to Stopping New Heroin Users On Long Island is Stopping Original Use of Over-Prescribed Painkillersbrbr


Today, in an effort to help combat prescription drug abuse and toooften related heroin use on Long Island, 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.


Long Island has not been spared: According to Newsday, in 2012, there were 27 cases of prescription painkiller overdoses resulting in death; 20 in Suffolk County and 7 in Nassau County. Deaths related to heroin overdoses increased 83 percent from 2010 to 2012. In 2012, 110 people died from a heroin overdose; 83 of those people were in Suffolk County and 27 people in Nassau County. The number of heroinrelated arrests in Suffolk County rose from 1,051 in 2011 to 1,266 in 2012 and in Nassau County that number jumped from 228 in 2011 to 427 in 2012.

Schumer therefore today announced 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 Long Islanders," said Schumer. "There have been too many recent crimes surrounding prescription drugs and subsequent heroin use in Nassau County and Suffolk County 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 drugrelated crime on Long Island."


"The misuse and diversion of prescription drugs, led by hydrocodone here on Long Island, remains one of our region's top public health challenges. As we battle record levels of opiate addiction and the overdose fatalities continue to mount, we must take concrete steps to limit the misuse and diversion of widely prescribed painkillers such as Vicodin. We applaud Senator Schumer's efforts to reclassify hydrocodone - a move that will limit the potential for abuse, while still maintaining access for those who genuinely require such medications," said Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of Long Island Coalition on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.


"Opiate addiction is the primary reason why people are admitted for treatment, surpassed only by those who abuse alcohol or cannabis. We are seeing a marked increase in the number of avoidable deaths of young, healthy people due to accidental overdose. Fortunately, many effective psychosocial and pharmacological treatments are available to help. However, prevention of opiate addiction through more careful controls of addictive medications like hydrocodone would clearly save lives and reduce suffering," said Bruce Goldman, LCSW, Director of Substance Abuse Services at Zucker Hillside Hospital.


Schumer was joined by members of the community that have been directly impacted by this epidemic, including Jeffrey Reynolds of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD); Bruce Goldman of Zucker Hillside Hospital; Dr. Brian Keefe of North Shore LIJ Health System.


Hydrocodone is among the most widely prescribed drugs in New York and the country, has rapidly increased in abuse levels, and is highly dangerous. In 2011, over 240,000 hydrocodone prescriptions were filled in Nassau County and over 400,000 hydrocodone prescriptions were filled in Suffolk County.


Long Island has seen far too many violent prescription drug thefts at local pharmacies. In 2011, a pharmacy robbery in Medford killed four innocent people. And a few months later, a Seaford pharmacy was robbed, resulting in the death of a federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent.


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. In 2012, there were 27 cases of prescription painkiller overdoses resulting in death on Long Island. And, there were 338 opiaterelated overdoses resulting in death. Although the number of opiaterelated overdoses decreased from 366 in 2011 to 338 in 2012, the number of heroinrelated overdose deaths increased 83% between 2010 and 2012. In 2012, 110 individuals died from a heroin overdose on Long Island.


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 nonprescription drug abusers between 20022004 and 20082010, 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 on Long Island, 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 (DW.Va.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (RIll.). 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 workrelated 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 30day 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 90day 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 longterm 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.