Efforts to combat a deadly drug epidemic went a step further Friday when President Obama signed legislation toughening sentences for those convicted of crimes involving prescription painkillers.
The tougher sentences are included in a bill sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. Schumer unveiled the proposal while in Western New York last year, after The Buffalo News published “Rx for Danger,” a series detailing the spread of prescription painkillers into the illegal drug market, leading to drug abuse, addiction and death.
Schumer’s bill, known as the Safe Doses Act, increases sentences for robbing pharmacies of controlled substances and creates a new category of crime dealing specifically with the theft and fencing of medications and the transportation and storage of stolen medications. The law also toughens sentences for when someone in the medical field is convicted of illegally dealing with prescriptions drugs, or when a death results when stolen medication is ingested.
“This plan will help keep drug thieves off the streets and law enforcement better equipped to combat the prescription drug theft in our upstate New York communities,” Schumer said Friday, after the legislation was signed into law by the president. The bill passed the House of Representatives in June, and the Senate earlier this week.
In its series, “Rx for Danger,” The Buffalo News found Western New York has become a hot spot for the most abused opioid painkillers – fentanyl, hydrocodone and oxycodone. The abuse has led to addiction and death among abusers of these drugs, and also fueled robberies at drugstores across the state. There also have been instances of doctors and employees in doctors offices committing crimes by selling the drugs to addicts.
A recent study by the Upstate New York Poison Control Center found more than 12,800 cases of prescription drug abuse in New York State during 2011, according to Schumer, including 2,324 cases in Western New York.
Enactment of Schumer’s bill follows passage in August of state legislation aimed at overhauling the way prescription drugs are distributed and tracked in New York State. That law establishes a “real time” prescription-monitoring registry, which is expected to reduce the ability of patients to receive duplicate prescriptions. That legislation was sponsored by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and had strong support from Western New York families who lost children to prescription drug abuse.