NY lawmakers consider limit on opioid drug prescriptions

(AP) -- New York lawmakers are considering legislation to limit the amount of prescription opioid drugs patients can get after an initial visit to the doctor's office, part of an effort to reduce the amount of pills that accumulate in medicine cabinets and help fuel a statewide addiction crisis.

The bill would restrict patients to just five days-worth of such drugs as OxyContin and hydrocodone, which are often used to treat acute pain after surgery and dental procedures. The actual number of doses in a five-day period would vary depending on the drug. Patients would need another consultation with a doctor to get more medication.

Advocates say the limit would prevent distribution of unneeded pills that can end up being sold or left for anyone in a household to use.

John McDonald, a Cohoes Democrat and the bill's sponsor in the Assembly, is also a pharmacist. He says he knows first-hand that short-acting medications for acute pain are the most highly addictive opioids, and some of the most overprescribed. He said the goal of the legislation is to do away with "bottles of large amounts of opioids that are sitting in medicine cabinets."

John Coppola, executive director of New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers, said the potential impact of such a measure is huge. "It's all about the physician being coached and trained about how to be respectful of the power of these medications while at the same time being sensitive to the needs of the patient," he said.

But opponents are worried the potential prescription limit would inhibit physicians' abilities to exercise their best judgments. The Medical Society of the State of New York called the five-day limit "arbitrary" since different patients have different pain thresholds.

"We are establishing limits on the clinical decision making of prescribers that are not based on scientific evidence or protocol," said Liz Dears, senior vice president of the Medical Society.

New York's Department of Health declined to comment on the pending legislation. States across the nation are considering prescription limits or adopting guidelines based on new recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control. In March, Massachusetts became the first state to adopt a similar law, with a seven-day limit, followed by Maine in April. A bill that also allows patients a seven-day supply has passed the Connecticut legislature and was signed Friday by Gov. Dannel Malloy.

Opioid-related emergency rooms visits in the state increased 73 percent during the years 2010 to 2014, state health officials said, with 952 deaths in 2013, the most recent year for which figures were available.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not taken a public position on the opioid prescription legislation. During a meeting in Long Island this past week with his own anti-addiction task force consisting of lawmakers and activists, he pledged that there would be a comprehensive plan to combat heroin and opioid addiction in the state by June 1, about two weeks before legislative session ends.

"Heroin and prescription opioids are equal-opportunity killers that don't discriminate based on race, class or gender -- and the number of deaths statewide are staggering," Cuomo said in a statement.

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