In the News / Politics:

New York Lawmakers Tackle Prescription Drug Abuse

By: Mahdieh Danesh Yazdi

We have all heard the mortifying tales of recent attacks on pharmacies by addicts looking to steal prescription pain-killers. Most notable perhaps, was the case of David Laffers. Mr. Laffers walked into Haven Drugs in Medford, NY and killed the pharmacist, a store clerk, and two customers, who happened to be in the store, in an attempt to steal prescription pain-killers. He was found to be in possession of thousands of hydrocodone pills during a search of his house. David Laffers was sentenced to life in prison and his wife was sentenced to 25 years for her complicity in the crime. The case shocked and horrified the local community. The incident, however, did bring attention to the subject of prescription drug abuse.  As such, New York State lawmakers have taken several measures to address this issue.

The tragedy in Medford was specifically cited in the justification for Bill S5880. This bill, which was introduced in the New York State Senate, would change hydrocodone, a component of the popular drug Vicodin®, from a schedule III drug to a schedule II drug. Hydrocodone is a schedule II drug in and of itself according to federal and state classifications. However, it is only sold as combination products, and hydrocodone combinations have a schedule III designation. This new legislation would change that designation to schedule II, making it illegal to get refills for the drug without a new prescription.  The bill cites the increase in abuse of hydrocodone as the principle reason behind stricter regulation of this drug. The bill also designates tramadol, another opiate which previously was not classified as a controlled substance, as a schedule III substance.  The bill was referred to the Rules Committee on September 09, 2011 and is currently awaiting approval by the committee.

The Medford tragedy was also cited in the justification for Bill S6066. This bill would hold all practitioners, including pharmacists, who dispense controlled medications responsible for the drugs they dispense to those who abuse them if done “other than in good faith in the course of their practice.” Previous laws held doctors responsible for pills given intentionally to drug abusers but pharmacists were not held accountable. This new law would allow pharmacists who did not exercise due diligence in dispensing narcotics to be charged with a Class B Felony and punished accordingly. This bill has been pre-filed and will be introduced in the New York State Senate on January 4, 2012.

Both laws were introduced by Senator Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau) who is the head of the public health committee of the New York State Senate. It is hoped that such measures would reduce the abuse of prescription drugs and help prevent horrific tragedies such as the one that occurred in Medford.

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