I don’t know if this is happening on the West coast, but on the East coast, 11 hospitals in New York City are tightening up their Emergency Room policy regarding how many prescription pills can be dispensed. Just as the flu was declared an epidemic in New York state, Mayor Michael Bloomberg took action to stop what he called a “citywide and national epidemic of prescription drug abuse.”
Soon, patients won’t be able to get more than three days’ worth of Vicodin and Percocet and other narcotic painkillers. They can’t get Fentanyl patches or methadone, and if they have stolen, lost, or destroyed prescription, they’re out of luck, according to the NYT article. The policy is already in place in Utah and Washington state.
The goal is to stop people from selling pills from medicine cabinets on the street or abusing them themselves, and reduce drug abuse overall. Of course, opponents argue that the poor and uninsured will suffer from this because the ER is often their only access to medical care. And some people with true pain need more than three days’ worth of pain pills. What if they’re waiting for surgery and in pain?
Not to be outdone by the mayor, a few days later Raymond Kelly, the NYC Police Commissioner proposed that more pharmacies use fake prescription drug containers with GPS devices attached (called bait bottles) to deter thefts. (The idea is that knowing they might take one of these bottles would be enough to stop robbers who are after painkillers and other addictive medications.) The fake bottles would be placed in groups of legitimate containers.
The authorities could track the bottle if there’s a robbery, and hopefully find “stash locations.” Purdue Pharma is supplying the GPS devices, undoubtedly hoping for some positive PR since the company sells Oxycontin.
The practice has actually been tried in other places in the country, but the police commissioner is hoping that thousands of pharmacies will be involved this time. He mentioned that the black market for oxycodone as the impetus for his proposal, and recalled the 2011 pharmacy robbery in Long Island by a man high on oxy who killed four people. He also mentioned a retired NYPD officer who became addicted to pills and then robbed pharmacies at gunpoint.
The end of the article had an interesting anecdote of how this practice has worked. In 2010, a robber after oxycodone threatened to shoot a pharmacy employee in Maine. But the employee was able to include a bait bottle in a bunch of bottles the robber took, and the police were able to track the thief and arrest him.
I didn’t know about the bait bottles, and the ER restrictions only make sense. Recently the government offered a reward for anyone who can come up with a way to thwart those horrible robocalls (for instance, from Rachel at Card Services) because they can’t find a remedy themselves. Maybe they should offer rewards for good ideas like these two for stopping robberies and drug abuse.