January 05, 2012

Gillibrand Urges Feds to Speed Up FDA Study On Stronger Rules for Use of Opiate Painkillers

Gillibrand Also Pushes for Federal Funds to Boost Prescription Monitoring Programs to Better Target At-Risk Patients, Combat Growing Addiction Crisis

Washington, DC – After two deadly pharmacy shootings in Medford and Seaford, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today urged federal agencies to speed up their study examining stronger restrictions on the use of opiates, including the powerful opiate painkiller hydrocodone. With rampant pill abuse, and a wave of crimes involving prescription painkillers across Long Island, Senator Gillibrand requested an update on the status of the study, pointing out that reclassifying hydrocodone as a “Schedule II” drug would enforce stricter standards on how the drug would be dispensed – from the doctors writing the prescriptions to the pharmacies that dole out the drugs. 

Senator Gillibrand wrote in a letter to the Food and Drug administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), “The non-medical use of opiates, such as hydrocodone, has increased drastically in the past decade...  With such an increase, there has been discussion about reclassifying hydrocodone as a Schedule II drug which would impose stronger restrictions on how it is dispensed. It has been 12 years since your agencies began studying whether or not to reclassify hydrocodone as a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act.  I am disappointed that neither agency has prioritized the completion of this study.” 

Senator Gillibrand also called for funding to boost prescription monitoring programs, which would help target at-risk patients addicted to painkillers and provide law enforcement with critical data to fight potential pharmacy crimes. Funding for the National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting (NASPER) Act would allow regions to share information and provide health care providers more access to patients’ prescription histories.   

In a letter to the Office of Budget and Management Director Jack Lew, Senator Gillibrand wrote, “As you know, NASPER expands the utility of prescription monitoring programs (PMPs)… This allows health care providers to have time access to patients’ prescription histories, which enables them to identify patients at risk for addiction and provides an opportunity for early intervention. The ability to identify these patients and implement early intervention is a vital component of our efforts to fight our growing addiction problem…I urge you to again provide the funding necessary this year to carry out the activities of this important program.” 

Last week, 43-year-old James McGoey entered a Seaford pharmacy and demanded painkillers, which led to the shooting death of an ATF agent. In June 2011, the Long Island gunman David Laffer murdered four people at a Medford pharmacy in his attempt to steal tens of thousands of hydrocodone pills. For years, Laffer and his wife filled prescriptions for almost 12,000 pain pills from dozens of doctors. 

The full text of Senator Gillibrand’s letters are below: 

Dear Dr. Hamburg and Ms. Leonhart: 

I appreciate the work that both the Food and Drug administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) do to protect health and well-being of our citizens. However, I am concerned with the perceived lack of response to an emerging and concerning issue.  

The non-medical use of opiates, such as hydrocodone, has increased drastically in the past decade.  Between 2000 and 2009, the number of people visiting emergency rooms due to non-medical hydrocodone has quadrupled from 19,221 visits to 86,258.  With such an increase, there has been discussion about reclassifying hydrocodone as a Schedule II drug which would impose stronger restrictions on how it is dispensed. Your agencies agreed to study the issue, but have not released any information as of yet. 

It has been 12 years since your agencies began studying whether or not to reclassify hydrocodone as a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act.  I am disappointed that neither agency has prioritized the completion of this study.  I respectfully request that both agencies provide an update on the status of this study.  

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.  I look forward to your reply.

 

  

Dear Director Lew, 

I am writing in support of additional funding for the National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting (NASPER) Act from the President’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget request. 

Congress passed this bipartisan legislation in 2005 in order to address the diversion and abuse of prescription drugs. As you know, NASPER expands the utility of prescription monitoring programs (PMPs), allowing more States to share information internally and regionally with neighboring States. This allows health care providers to have time access to patients’ prescription histories, which enables them to identify patients at risk for addiction and provides an opportunity for early intervention. The ability to identify these patients and implement early intervention is a vital component of our efforts to fight our growing addiction problem.

Abuse of prescription drugs, especially highly addictive painkillers such as oxycodone, is a problem across America. Recently in New York, we saw a tragic outcome of addiction when a Long Island man, who abused prescription drugs, killed four people at a pharmacy and then stole thousands of painkillers. While this is, thankfully, a single event, it shows how vital programs like NASPER are, not just for individuals who may develop addictions, but also for the general public. Additionally, a recent study shows that there is a severe oxycodone problem in Staten Island. The New York City special narcotics prosecutor is forming a new task force aimed specifically at tackling pill abuse in that borough. I am pleased that local law enforcement is taking these steps, but I know that increased funding for NASPER will make these efforts more effective and allow us to do even more to monitor prescription histories and prevent abuse of these drugs.