Anyone who takes prescription medications must have been alarmed after reading the article the other day about state auditors examining records for more than 22 million prescriptions dispensed in New York State – and discovering major problems.
Auditors found errors on more than 325,000 prescriptions that had been filled more than 565,000 times.
As reported, among the findings:
• In 135 instances, prescriptions were written by doctors and other practitioners who did not have valid medical licenses.
• More than 90,000 prescriptions were filled more than 157,000 times beyond their authorized refill quantities.
• More than 130,000 prescriptions contained invalid Drug Enforcement Registration provider numbers.
The database is maintained by the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement and is created from data electronically transmitted when prescriptions are filled in New York. The agency defended itself by saying that about 50,000 of the errors were data entry mistakes, and that the actual prescriptions did not reflect the problems state auditors cited.
Still, the explanation offers cold comfort to those dependent upon the correct conveyance of information from doctor to pharmacist and eventually to patient. And there is an even greater and more urgent reason for scrutiny.
Increased attention has been paid to illegal use of prescription medication, as the Comptroller’s Office stated. The problem in Western New York is especially pervasive, where opiate painkillers are prescribed 70 percent more frequently than the state average.
The News’ 2011 series, “Rx for Danger,” helped spur the campaign to fix the system. Families that have suffered the loss of a loved one to prescription drug abuse have bravely stepped forward to tell their stories.
The state attorney general and the region’s elected officials on both the state and federal levels responded and pushed for change.
President Obama signed legislation, the Safe Doses Act, toughening sentences for those convicted of crimes involving prescription painkillers, following a bill sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced early this year that he would make the issue one of his top legislative priorities for 2012. And Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation to make that happen.
The result is the state’s “I-STOP” program (Internet System for Tracking in Over-Prescribing Act), which will create a crucial statewide online database to enable doctors and pharmacists to conduct real-time tracking of narcotic drug prescriptions.
As Dale M. Kasprzyk, resident agent in charge of the Buffalo office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said, pharmacists need more computerized tools, and this piece of legislation will make a big difference in detecting mistaken or bogus prescriptions.
The goal the next time prescriptions in the state are audited: Far fewer errors.