The prescription drug pandemic
Published: Monday, February 20, 2012
Updated: Sunday, June 17, 2012 14:06
It took five minutes and 47 seconds for Michael Israel to hear that there were no beds available for him in rehab. Moments later, following the sounds of a shotgun, Avi Israel held his son for the last time as his addiction to prescription drugs came to a fatal conclusion.
The misuse and abuse of prescription drugs is a hot button issue in this year's legislative session, but lately the tables have turned. The issue has shifted from blaming the addicts to questioning the practices of medical professionals state-wide.
The story of Michael Israel is just one of the thousands that exist in New York State. According to Avi and Julie Israel, Michael's parents, their son's role was only a small part of what caused him to ultimately commit suicide. The Israels blame their son's death on a "flawed" health care system in New York State.
This system is one where doctors do not talk to other doctors before prescribing meds, and where pharmacists do not warn about the danger of mixing certain drugs together.
Then there is Tim Kroll, who took his own life at 19. According to his mother Teri, he was a straight edge kid before he was prescribed pain medication.
When Tim told his doctor that those medications were ineffective, his doctor replaced them with several different drugs.
When Ms. Kroll realized Tim was addicted to the prescriptions, she took him to a different doctor, who cut him off of pain medication completely. Drug dependent, Tim took to street drugs.
On Aug. 29, 2010, Ms. Kroll found Tim barely breathing. Tim, who had said weeks before that he wished to become an advocate for drug prevention, committed suicide to escape the life his addiction had created.
According to Giselle Jackman from Prevention Focus, an organization devoted to drug prevention education, says that trust and ignorance may be at fault.
"People trust their doctors," Jackman said at a NYS Senate Round Table meeting on Feb. 13, "and doctors don't think they're harming the patient."
Jackman suggests that doctors delay controlled substance prescriptions until absolutely necessary so an addiction is not triggered.
Doctors and pharmacists believe the issue should be solved by changing the prescription process.
An increase in access to health care, per President Obama's Affordable Care Act, has increased access to medication.
Despite the increased availability to medication, Jeffrey Reynolds from the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence says the issue is "completely preventable."
Reynolds, at the same Round Table, cites pharmacy shootings on Long Island as evidence that prescription drug abuse is a growing, and already very real, problem. Himself, along with Dr. Joseph Sacco of Albany and Dr. Donald Moore of the Medical Society of the State of New York, agree that the solution is a shift in technology.
The database that tracks prescriptions filled, doctors seen, number of prescriptions of one patient, etc. -- is not updated immediately after each event. This, according to Terry O'Leary of the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, can lead to patients participating in "doctor shopping."
In other words, a system that does not immediately update allows patients to receive care from multiple physicians.
This provides the patient with a surplus of prescriptions, and consequently, drugs.
According to Tomson George, a representative from Walgreens, this is especially difficult for pharmacists.
A pharmacist can not raise red flags if they do not know the patient's history.
At the same time, even if they do have access to what a patient is prescribed, they do not know if an unordinary amount of prescriptions is the result of a series of unfortunate events on the patient's end.
All professionals listed above were part of that Senate Health Round Table meeting, but they all agreed on at least two points.