L.I. Grand Jury Targets Painkiller Abuse Epidemic

Panel recommends mandatory blood tests for any driver involved in fatal accident

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    Anyone involved in a car accident involving an injury or death would be subject to mandatory blood and alcohol testing in New York under a proposal being offered by a Long Island grand jury that investigated a prescription painkiller epidemic.

    Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota released the grand jury's 99-page report on Thursday, just weeks before the first anniversary of a pharmacy robbery that left four people dead.

    "The grand jurors listened to sworn testimony from 38 witnesses including law enforcement professionals, government regulators, physicians, pharmacists, drug manufacturers, drug addicts and even a few drug dealers," Spota said in a statement.

    Among dozens of proposals — some that would require legislative action and others that could be enacted through policy changes by various governmental agencies, including the federal Food and Drug Administration and the state health department — is state legislation to mandate blood tests for any driver involved in a car accident that kills or injures another person.

    The grand jury noted that in the past decade, Suffolk County has seen a 413 percent increase in arrests for driving while intoxicated where the driver was under the influence of a controlled substance. Police and prosecutors have said it is very difficult to recognize a person who may be high on prescription painkillers without performing a blood test. Under current law, a search warrant is required to perform a blood test.

    Civil libertarians reacted with suspicion Thursday.

    "This raises serious questions," said Amol Sinha, director of the Suffolk County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "Anytime we're talking about the government forcefully putting a needle into your arm, we need to take a step back and consider the purpose and the consequences."

    The report also urges mandatory electronic filing of prescriptions on controlled substances, which would prevent forgeries of prescriptions currently written on paper. It also calls for the pharmaceutical industry to contribute to a research fund for addiction and evaluation, as well as fund changes to the state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.

    The grand jury also is suggesting changes in state law on the severity of crimes involving the use and abuse of painkillers, elevating some crimes currently considered misdemeanors to felonies.

    The district attorney empaneled the grand jury last year following of the killings of four people inside a Medford pharmacy in June.

    David Laffer, an admitted drug addict, pleaded guilty to murdering two employees and two customers on Father's Day before fleeing with a backpack jammed with painkillers. He is serving consecutive life prison terms. His wife, Melinda Brady, who also admitted abusing painkillers, drove the getaway car. She is serving a 25-year sentence after pleading guilty to robbery charges.

    Several relatives of the victims have filed multimillion-dollar lawsuits claiming drug companies, police and others did nothing to prevent the deaths.

    The shooting was the first of two fatal pharmacy holdups on Long Island last year. On New Year's Eve, a federal agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was killed when he tried to intervene in a pharmacy robbery in Seaford.

    The agent was killed by a retired police officer in a suspected "friendly fire" shooting, although police have yet to discuss the exact circumstances surrounding that shooting. An investigation by the Nassau County district attorney is ongoing.

    Since the shootings, several doctors in the New York area have been arrested on charges of improperly prescribing painkillers to patients in a practice Laffer described at his sentencing as "doctor shopping." That's where addicts learn of physicians willing to dole out prescriptions for painkillers with few or no questions asked.

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