A special Suffolk County grand jury report examining the deadly epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse on Long Island proposed corrective legislation, indicted 26 people and blamed the medical community for fueling the problem.
The 99-page report suggests improving regulation of prescription drugs to crack down on “doctor shopping”—when abusers rack up multiple prescriptions from unscrupulous doctors—increasing penalties for doctors who sell prescriptions and requiring blood tests for drivers in crashes that cause injuries or death.
“The genesis of the prescription pill epidemic lies squarely at the feet of the medical establishment,” Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota told reporters Thursday at a news conference in his Hauppauge office. “Many of them failed to realize the danger of what was happening.”
He commissioned the grand jury study the issue after David Laffer killed four people while robbing a Medford pharmacy a year ago next month. The study was already underway when another drug store hold-up in Seaford claimed two lives in December.
The grand jury spent six months listening to sworn testimony 38 witnesses, including law enforcement professionals, government regulators, physicians, pharmacists, drug manufacturers, drug addicts and even three drug dealers.
The report proposed increasing penalties for doctors and pharmacists convicted of illegally selling prescriptions, which would require approval of the New York State Legislature.
“These practitioners are no different than drug dealers and should be punished like drug dealers,” Spota said.
Of the 26 unidentified suspects indicted by the grand jury during its investigation, none of them are doctors. But the investigation is continuing, according to the district attorney.
Nassau County and federal Drug Enforcement Administration investigators have both arrested several doctors and pharmacists in the past year on charges of illegally selling prescriptions to substance abusers.
The report also calls for doctors to be mandated to use an Internet database to eliminate paper prescriptions. This would inhibit doctor shopping and would allow doctors and pharmacists to check prescription history to see if a patient is gaming the system.
“Pharmacists are working in the dark in terms of who walks through the door,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Less than 2 percent of doctors use the state database, he said.
The grand jury also suggests that if a driver is involved in an accident that results in death or serious physical injury that they be subjected to mandatory blood testing. Under current law, officials need to get a search warrant to get blood drawn.
In addition, it urges Food and Drug Administration to not approve a new type of hydrocodone that is 10 times stronger.
“There is absolutely no medical reason for this drug to be approved,” Spota said. “All this is going to do is line the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies and give addicts an even more potent drug to abuse.”
With 231 deaths from prescription drug abuse last year in Suffolk County alone, Reynolds said these recommendations need to be enacted quickly to save lives.
“We need these tools,” said Reynolds. “We need them now more than ever.”