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NYSNYS NEWS: Growing prevalence of pain pill and heroin addiction prompts family members and treatment advocates to call on the Assembly to mandate improved doctor training.
NYSNYS NEWS: Growing prevalence of pain pill and heroin addiction prompts family members and treatment advocates to call on the Assembly to mandate improved doctor training.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 10) – Addiction treatment advocates and relatives of heroin overdose victims are asking the Legislature to pass a new law to require training for doctors and others who routinely prescribe pain medication.

Pain relief pills like hydrocodone are tightly controlled as a result of widespread abuse and addiction to the powerful medications. But advocates say that crackdown has only driven some addicts to shift to heroin, with fatal results.

"Plain and simple, if you speak with anyone who has a family member who has suffered with addiction to alcohol or drugs, or anyone in recovery from addiction, far too many of them will tell you the story of how the medical community failed to diagnosis, refer or to treat the addiction," Robert Lindsey of Friends of Recovery New York said a press conference this week.

"In fact, in too many cases they will tell you that the addiction started with the prescription from a physician."

He said most doctors receive little or no training in treating addiction and "it is long overdue that New York state take the lead and make sure that every physician in the state of New York receives training in this issue."

The bill, A.355, would require healthcare professionals who prescribe pain medication to complete three hours of Continuing Medical Education (CME) on addiction and pain management every two years. Sponsors say it will be an outgrowth of the state's I-STOP law that cracked down on legal prescriptions of pain medications.

"It's a very simple task but it's a very important one because lives are at stake," said Robert Ross, CEO of St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center in Saranac Lake.

I-STOP, which took effect in 2013, is an Internet database set up to prevent over-prescribing of narcotic medications. "Most prescribers are required to consult the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) Registry when writing prescriptions for Schedule II, III, and IV controlled substances," the Health Department says on its website. "The PMP Registry provides practitioners with direct, secure access to view dispensed controlled substance prescription histories for their patients. The PMP is available 24 hours a day/7 days a week."

Advocates say the bill faces opposition in the Assembly, in part because of concerns from the Medical Society of the State of New York.

"There are turf issues, there are issues about opening doors to precedents for continuing education," said Lauri Cole, executive director of the NYS Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. She said the families who attended this week's press conference carrying pictures of their loved ones who died from drug ODs "are all people who have lost someone as a result of this scourge. It's just inconceivable that the Assembly would not listen to them."

Besides the growing number of prescription drug overdoses, some counties are seeing an upturn in child abuse and neglect cases because of drug addicted unfit parents and newborns damage by the mother's drug use.

In a memo opposing the bill, MSSNY says "physicians are not opposed to continuing medical education," but the bill ignores the success of the I-STOP law. "Since the implementation of ISTOP drug diversion in New York State has been reduced by 75 percent," MSSNY says in the memo.

"We have not seen any data which shows that physicians are not complying with I-STOP. Quite to the contrary, the (Health) Department has been promoting prescribers’ strong compliance with it, and IMS Health data shows New York now being below many other states regarding controlled substance prescribing. As such, universal training on ISTOP is unnecessary."