Kudos to Mayor Bloomberg, local prosecutors and medical folks for moving to sharply limit the amount of prescription painkillers doled out in emergency rooms in the city’s 11 public hospitals. It’s about time someone took on the over-prescribing of highly addictive drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone by the medical community, which may be a worse contributor to the pill epidemic than the rogue doctors we wrote about in November.
Under the initiative, emergency rooms will only be allowed to prescribe three days worth of pain pills, and won’t re-fill lost, stolen or damaged prescriptions. In the past, hospital would prescribe a whole lot more pills as a matter of routine.
The policy is voluntary, which means that hospitals could refuse to implement it. But the public hospitals are doing it, and mayoral spokeswoman Samantha Levine tells us today that the city expects that private hospitals will also going along with the program.
Experts have blamed that practice for the sharp increase in consumption of pills, addiction and overdoses over the past eight years. Between 2004 and 2010, painkiller use jumped 40 percent, and ER visits for painkiller-related reasons nearly tripled. In 2010 alone, 173 people died from overdoses–a 30 percent jump. What often happens is that the painkillers sit unused in someone’s medicine cabinet until a household member starts experimenting with them.
“Changing practice by front line providers is key to changing the course of this epidemic,” said Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs. “While prosecutors and the law enforcement community rightly focus on those who illegally prescribe, dispense or procure painkillers, health leaders need to focus on encouraging well-meaning doctors and pharmacists to prescribe and dispense these medications safely and judiciously.”