Substance Abuse

New York City’s New Prescription Painkillers Policy Targets Public Hospitals’ ER Departments

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Jan. 10 at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens the new opioid emergency department prescription guidelines for the City’s public hospitals.

The guidelines state that emergency departments will not prescribe long-acting opioid painkillers, such as extended-release oxycodone, fentanyl patches or methadone; can only prescribe up to a three-day supply of opioids; and will not refill lost, stolen or destroyed prescriptions.

According to City officials, the new policy is designed to reduce prescription abuse and overdose by encouraging judicious prescribing, patient education, referral to primary care and treatment for substance abuse when needed.

“Prescription painkillers can provide life-changing relief for people in dire health situations, but they can be extremely dangerous if used or prescribed improperly,” Mayor Bloomberg said in a news release. “Working with health care providers and public health criminal justice experts our task force is providing the tools to fight a burgeoning epidemic while protecting legitimate health care needs.”

A report from the Mayor’s office highlights the rising cases of emergency room visits and overdose deaths in New York City due to prescription drug misuse. Between 2008-2009, more than 260,000 New Yorkers aged 12 and older reported misuse of opioid medications. In 2010, prescription painkillers were involved in 173 unintentional overdose deaths in New York City, a 30 percent increase from 2005.

City health officials, however, were quick to point that the new guidelines would not apply to patients who need prescriptions for cancer pain or palliative care.

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