The Republican-led state Senate on Tuesday is poised to pass a package of more than a dozen bills aimed at curbing heroin and opioid abuse, including a measure that seeks to limit the amount of highly addictive medication that can be prescribed to minors.
The bill (S.5949) would prohibit practitioners from prescribing more than a seven-day supply of any controlled substance containing an opioid, such as Percocet, OxyContin and Vicodin, to a minor. It would also require the health care practitioner to get written permission from a parent or guardian before issuing a first prescription of a controlled substance. There are exceptions for medical emergencies or if the minor’s health or safety is at risk.
Another proposal (S.5670) would require health care practitioners to consult patients about the quantity of an opioid prescription and the patient’s option to take a lower dosage. Under it, physicians would also be required to discuss the risks associated with taking an opiate.
The package of legislation differs from that offered in the state Assembly and from a package offered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Senate package enhances penalties for street dealing of drugs such as fentanyl and makes it easier to prosecute heroin dealers. According to the Republican conference, the bill would assist in the prosecution of heroin dealers by creating a presumption that the possession of 50 or more individual packages of heroin is possession with intent to sell.
Neither S.5949 or S5670 have companion bills in the Assembly. Though there is a chance that these proposals could become part of a large omnibus bill that contains several different legislative proposals passed by lawmakers in the waning days of session.
Democrats who dominate the Assembly, however, have been cool to the idea of criminal justice measures that deal with lengthening sentences, so most of the portions dealing with harsher penalties probably have little chance.
The Medical Society of the State of New York, which represents more than 30,000 licensed physicians, medical residents, and medical students, has “significant concerns” with both New York Senate bills limiting prescribing, said Pat Clancy, the medical society’s senior vice president for public health and managing director.
The first bill, Clancy said, doesn’t take into account Public Health Law 2504, which defines the circumstances when a minor can make health decisions for themselves. “The second bill is unnecessary as the NYS [New York state] Legislature last year passed provisions for counseling and education by the pharmacist for Controlled Substance II as part of the opioid package,” Clancy said in an email.
“Also, last year, the Legislature imposed a strict seven-day limitation for prescribing of an opioid for an initial consultation for acute pain, further limiting access to these types of medications. As we work with policymakers to address the heroin and opioid abuse crisis, we need to strike a careful balance to ensure that we do not inadvertently discourage physicians from addressing their patients’ pain needs,” she said.
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the powerful Washington-based trade association that represents the producers of brand name pharmaceuticals, has not taken a position on the bills, a spokeswoman said.
Last year, as the legislative session was grinding to a halt, Cuomo and legislative leaders reached an agreement to limit initial opioid prescriptions for acute pain to a seven-day supply.
In neighboring New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie in February signed a bill into law that limits prescriptions for pain medication to five days and requires practitioners to prescribe a low dose.
Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Ohio and Rhode Island all have limits on how many opiate pills a doctor can prescribe, and 49 states have authorized or implemented prescription drug monitoring programs to discourage “doctor-shopping” for more drugs. Medicaid programs are also looking to cap painkiller prescriptions.
Under threat of strict regulations, the pharmaceutical industry increased its campaign donations in Albany, spending roughly $800,000 lining coffers in the Capitol last year, according to data from the State Board of Elections.
About 2.5 million Americans are addicted to opioids, and drug overdose is now the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
Several New York counties have filed lawsuits against drugmakers seeking to recover law enforcement and medical costs associated with the linked opiate and heroin epidemics.