The number of narcotics prescriptions filled in NYC fell for a fourth straight year in 2016. That’s more the seed of good news than the harvest.
We can hope the reduction will mean fewer people addicted to painkillers, heroin and other street opioids. But it doesn’t change the fact that overdose deaths are still increasing rapidly in the city, with 1,374 in 2016, and that the region is still struggling to respond.
That many deaths from overdoses, with at least 80 percent attributable to opioids, is a staggering number. That’s more people than were killed in NYC by car crashes, homicide and suicide combined.
Drug overdose deaths have increased for six straight years. In 2016, 140 percent more people died of drug overdoses in the city than in 2010. While much is being done to confront the epidemic, so far it does not seem to be doing much good.
In 2013, the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing, or I-STOP, went into effect statewide to help combat the problem. The law created a statewide database of prescriptions that medical professionals had to check before prescribing narcotic painkillers, and then update. The system was intended to prevent addicts from using multiple doctors and pharmacies, crack down on “pill mills” and block the flow of prescription drugs to the black market.
It has worked, slowly. Other new state laws, such as one limiting prescriptions for acute injuries to a seven-day supply, instead of the typical 30 days, have helped, too. This year, opioid prescriptions are down 6.5 percent in NYC, and a similar percentage statewide. But the shift, which has dried up the supply of pills obtained legally and driven up the prices of those obtained illegally, also has massively increased the market for the much-cheaper heroin, which is often laced with deadly hyperpowerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
From law enforcement to addiction prevention to addiction treatment, multiple battles are being fought. The reduction in narcotics prescriptions is good news as this deadly serious war continues.