Prescription Pads Will Go Digital In New York State In Effort To Reduce Opioid Drug Abuse

Prescription Drugs
Prescription drug abuse has led to state legislation that requires an electronic system for tracking doctors and hospitals. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, public domain

If you’ve ever needed a prescription, it’s likely you’ve been handed a slip of paper with illegible scribbles. But ubiquitously hard-to-read handwritten prescriptions will soon be a medical practice of the past now that a 2012 state law known as I-Stop will start being reinforced this year. However, its main objective will not be to stop the sloppy scripts, but instead to combat the nation’s prolific prescription drug abuse.

Starting March 27, New York State physicians will be the first in America to throw out their prescription pads and go electronic, or else suffer penalties and fines. The move from pen to mouse was made in an effort to put a dent in the growing prescription opioid abuse problem in America. The law will force hospitals and private practices of all kinds within the state to use an Internet system for tracking and monitoring prescriptions and eliminate the risk of pharmacies misreading doctors’ sometimes undecipherable handwriting.

“My handwriting is really pathetic,” Dr. Steven Lamm, a medical director at NYU Langone Medical Center, told the New York Times. “[Now] my prescriptions are actually legible.”

Many institutions still need to get onboard with an electronic system. Since January, only 60 percent of the state’s roughly 100,000 prescribers had access to a system to send prescriptions electronically. Half as many institutions have a system set up to prescribe controlled substances, which may be because it requires an extra security process.   

The system will require a doctor to enter in the patient’s pharmacy information, where the prescription will be sent electronically. Prescribers will be able to view past prescriptions and even those written by other doctors outside of their institution. After it becomes mandatory by the end of the month, prescribers who do not write prescriptions digitally “will be subject to a full range of disciplinary actions, including both civil and criminal penalties and fines,” according to the State Health Department.

There are few exceptions. Doctors will still be able to write prescriptions by hand in extenuating circumstances. For example, if a medication needs to be filled out of state, if the computer system fails and a prescription is immediately necessary, or when a patient needs a prescription for something other than drugs, like a leg brace or wheelchair. This reinforces the message to doctors that the new prescription system is primarily created to reduce drug abuse and all of the deaths that come with it.

Prescription abuse is a complex and serious problem in America. Opioids are a particularly dangerous class of drugs because they interact with receptors in the brain that produce a pleasure effect and relieve pain. Heroin is also a type of opioid, which is why four in five new heroin users started out their addiction by misusing prescription drugs. As a direct result, deaths resulting from heroin overdose nearly quadrupled between 2000 and 2013.

Prescription pads are at the heart of the epidemic. According to the American Society of Addictive Medicine, in 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids — that’s more than enough to give every adult in America their own pill bottle. The greater availability of opioid and other prescription drugs has given birth to the alarming increase of health consequences, and account for the greatest proportion of prescription drug abuse to date.  

“Paper prescriptions had become a form of criminal currency that could be traded even more easily than the drugs themselves,” said Eric T. Schneiderman, the state’s attorney general, who helped write the legislation. “By moving to a system of e-prescribing, we can curb the incidence of these criminal acts and also reduce errors resulting from misinterpretation of handwriting on good-faith prescriptions.”

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