Public Hospital ERs in New York City to Restrict Some Painkillers

New York City public hospitals will restrict prescriptions of some powerful painkillers in their emergency rooms, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday. The new policy is designed to cut down on prescription drug abuse.

Most patients in public hospitals will no longer be able to obtain more than three days’ worth of narcotic painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet, and will not be able to get OxyContin, Fentanyl or methadone at all. Patients will not be able to refill prescriptions that have been lost, stolen or destroyed, The New York Times reports.

The rate of opioid painkiller-related emergency department visits nearly tripled in New York City between 2004 and 2010, according to a news release from the Mayor’s office.

“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. Our work will proceed on all fronts to curtail the harms that come from painkiller misuse.”

Mayor Bloomberg said more than 250,000 New Yorkers over age 12 are abusing prescription painkillers.

Some critics of the new plan say it takes away the flexibility of doctors in the public health system to respond to the needs of poor and uninsured patients. “Here is my problem with legislative medicine,” Dr. Alex Rosenau, President-Elect of the American College of Emergency Physicians told the newspaper. “It prevents me from being a professional and using my judgment.” While some patients may fake pain to get a prescription, he said, others may have legitimate complaints of pain that require more than three days’ worth of painkillers.

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