The number of opioid painkiller prescriptions filled by New York City residents climbed to more than 2 million in 2010, a 22 percent increase from 2008, according to data released Wednesday by city officials.
The data showed that 8,000 health care providers, about 15 percent, wrote the vast majority of those prescriptions, more than 80 percent.
Opioids reduce pain but carry the risk of addiction and overdose. They include drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin.
A task force on prescription painkiller abuse wants the state's drug monitoring system to be made stronger. The task force proposal would require doctors and pharmacists to check a database before prescribing or filling painkiller prescriptions, as well as input information about prescriptions that are written or filled in a timely fashion to prevent overprescribing or fraud.
"In the face of opioid abuse, it is critical that we educate providers, pharmacists and patients on the potential dangers of painkiller misuse or overuse," said Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs, co-chairwoman of the task force. "Strengthening our drug monitoring system will help us work together to ensure that well-intentioned providers don't inadvertently overprescribe these pills — with potentially dangerous consequences — and that we have the information we need to investigate those who are actively engaging in criminal behavior."
According to city data, there's been a 30 percent increase in overdose deaths that are linked to opioids since 2005. The task force also said there would be a benefit to sharing the data with public health officials and law enforcement, as long as there were appropriate protections.
"Our report shows that some doctors are prescribing prescription painkillers at an alarming rate, and data is the key to turning the tide," said chief policy adviser John Feinblatt. "With access to data on the prescribing of painkillers, local public health and law enforcement agencies would be able to play a key role in preventing overprescribing, identifying suspicious prescription patterns and keeping criminals from preying on those who are fighting addiction."
The task force also called for increased training for doctors and pharmacists, and more education for the public. Doctors who prescribe high dosages of the painkillers would have to take eight hours of training in prevention and management of painkiller dependence, and would be required to give patients written warnings about the risks of taking the medications.