Today, at DePaul in Rochester, in an effort to help combat an unprecedented spike in prescription drug abuse and too-often related heroin use in the Rochester region, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer launched a campaign to keep painkillers that contain hydrocodone out of the wrong hands. Studies and reports from local health officials have shown that there is a significant subset of heroin users who become addicted first to hydrocodone and opioids. Rochester and the surrounding region have not been spared: according to the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy, prescription drug abuse is Monroe Country's second most prevalent illegal drug problem, and recent reports and studies have documented a significant increase in opiate use in Monroe County. In fact, certain opiates such as oxycodone and codeine were cited in 15 percent of all crisis admissions for drug treatment in Monroe County in 2010, compared with 9 percent in 2007. Likewise, the Monroe County Crime Lab has seen a drastic spike in samples of heroin sent for testing with the amount of samples nearly quadrupling from 227 samples in 2011 to 892 samples in 2012.
Schumer therefore announced his bipartisan plan, the Safe Prescribing Act of 2013 to reclassify hydrocodone as a Schedule II controlled substance -- which would require a written or electronic prescription that must be signed by the practitioner, among other stricter requirements to authorize the use of this drug. Schumer's plan would include a number of other important features to combat this epidemic and still balance the needs of the medical community, legitimate users of such medications, and manufacturers.
"Every minute that the federal government waits to keep lethal prescription drugs from falling in the wrong hands, is another minute that families could suffer from the hydrocodone epidemic that too often imprisons or even kills Rochester Finger Lakes residents," said Senator Schumer. "There have been too many recent crimes surrounding prescription drugs and subsequent heroin use in the Rochester region to ignore, and it's time to do more to balance the needs of patients that rely on these drugs for pain treatment, with those who are putting their lives and the surrounding community at risk.
Schumer continued, "Hydrocodone can be a deadly substance on its own, and it can often lead users to heroin for a cheaper high and that is why I am launching a plan to make hydrocodone a Schedule II drug to help close the floodgates of addiction and drug-related crime in Rochester."
"Looking at adolescent survey data locally, we note that 12% are reporting use of pain meds to get high in Monroe County, with another 6% in City of Rochester. With increasing numbers of young people seeking pain meds to get high, we can predict with certainty that there will be an increasing number of youth in need of treatment," said Jennifer Faringer, Director of DePaul's National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. "We also know that the over prescribing of opiate pain meds with its subsequent diversion to the street is a factor of the increase in heroin use that we are seeing locally."
"Most people don't associate prescription medications like hydrocodone with addiction because it's not a "street drug.' As a result, people don't always implement proper safeguards to make sure it doesn't end up in the wrong hands. This makes it easily available to teenagers and young adults, who might then face a lifelong struggle with opiate addiction, including heroin, said Patrick Seche, Director Strong Recovery/Addiction Psychiatry Division, University of Rochester Medical Center. Any action that is likely to restrict access to hydrocodone is worth pursuing."
Hydrocodone is among the most widely prescribed drugs in New York and the country, has rapidly increased in abuse levels, and is highly dangerous. The pervasive illegal abuse of prescription drugs and heroin is reflected in drug evidence processed by the Monroe County Crime Lab. For example, in the years 2009-2012, law enforcement seized 31,865 tablets/capsules and sent them to the Monroe County Crime Lab which tested and confirmed them as controlled prescriptions. These drugs, often hydrocodone, were used as evidence in the prosecution of 1,404 cases. The Crime Lab has seen a drastic spike in samples of heroin sent for testing with the amount of samples nearly quadrupling from 227 samples in 2011 to 892 samples in 2012.
In February 2013, the Center for Disease Control unveiled a study that showed a spike in heroin use and overdose death in recent years, and evidence suggests that this is a result of an increase in nonmedical use of opioid pain relievers as those users transition to heroin use. The CDC studied data from the 2002 to 2004 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health as compared to the 2008 through 2010 surveys, to examine the patterns of heroin use and the increase in recent years. There was a spike in heroin use among non-prescription drug abusers between 2002-2004 and 2008-2010, with most reporting nonmedical use of hydrocodone/opioid pain relievers before initiating heroin. The study also found that the rate of subsequent heroin use from pills has increased nationally, about 20 percent, since 2004.
In response to the recent scourge of hydrocodone abuse in the Rochester region and all of New York, Schumer is pushing the Safe Prescribing Act of 2013 to reclassify hydrocodone as a Schedule II drug. Schumer is cosponsoring this bipartisan legislation with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). These three senators, along with a larger bipartisan group, argue that hydrocodone was originally misclassified as a Schedule III drug. Because of its' highly addictive properties, it is better classified as a Schedule II narcotic.
Under the classification of a Schedule II drug, a written prescription or electronic prescription signed by the practitioner would be required for drugs containing hydrocodone. The refilling of a prescription for a controlled substance listed in Schedule II is prohibited; therefore a new prescription must be issued each time a patient needs a refill. Schumer noted that in terms of issuance of multiple prescriptions for Schedule II substances, an individual practitioner may issue multiple prescriptions authorizing the patient to receive a total of up to a 90-day supply of a Schedule II controlled substance provided several conditions, including a legitimate medical purpose for each drug, written instructions on each prescription, determination that undue risk of abuse is not created, and permissibility under state law.
The federal law is necessary to help cut down interstate drug trafficking. Without a federal law, individuals could go to Vermont, Pennsylvania or Massachusetts to access these drugs. The federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI tend to focus more resources on Schedule II drugs and they tend to go after the larger drug trafficking organizations. The legislation would also require the GAO to conduct an oversight study on how this change impacts legitimate use of pain medication, particularly for patients in rural areas and nursing homes. Schumer noted that while New York State considers hydrocodone a Schedule II narcotic, a federal law is critical to ensure that abusers or dealers cannot easily obtain the drug from neighboring states.
Reports from law enforcement and school officials to DePaul confirm that the over prescribing of opiate pain medications has resulted in an increase in more young people, as well as adults, transitioning to heroin when their preferred prescription medication is not available or too costly on the street. Additionally the over prescribing of the opiate prescriptions has resulted in an increase in burglaries, both pharmacies and home robberies. One provider, Westfall Associates reported to DePaul that they have had a 50% increase in requests for services related to opiate dependence since the last quarter of 2010, including a number of cases where the person's disease has escalated to heroin use, to include by snorting and injection. Upstate New York Poison Center reports that in Monroe County there have been deaths caused by heroin overdoses in each of the past 3 years.
According to officials at Strong Recovery at the University of Rochester Medical Center recent admission trends show that prescription drug abuse is becoming more pervasive among younger adults and is leading to heroin abuse in some cases. Strong Recovery is currently treating 670 patients, Admissions due to prescription drug abuse have increased to account for about 20% of admissions. Additionally while the average age of patients in the Strong Recovery Methadone Maintenance Program had typically been older over the age of 40, the majority, 58%, are now between the ages of 18-35 and for the first time ever approximately a quarter of those in the Methadone Maintenance Program are receiving Methadone due to an addiction that started with a prescription drug.
Schumer pointed to a recent scourge of hydrocodone and heroin abuse in Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, and Wayne counties as he unveiled his plan to crack down on this epidemic in the Rochester region:
· In April 2013, a 23 year-old Rochester man was charged with distribution of heroin and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
· In March 2013, authorities arrested the star of a VH-1 reality show in Rochester on charges of running a pipeline of heroin and cocaine to the Rochester region, trafficking more than $2.5 million in drugs between 2005 and August 2012
· In April 2013, police arrested a Canandaigua business owner after he was found to be in possession of several bags of heroin and other paraphernalia used in the distribution of narcotics following the execution of a search warrant.
· A 2012, New York Attorney General noted that in Monroe County a drug ring was caught with stolen prescription pads and that 40,000 prescriptions had been written under one doctor's name with the provider's knowledge.
· In February 2012, Orleans County police announced the largest heroin seizure recorded in the county when they stopped a Rochester man headed for Orleans County as he returned from New York City with heroin valued at $200,000. He was also in possession of $3,000 in cash. He was charged with four counts of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance.
· In July 2012, dozens of teens were arrest at the Warped Tour concert at Darien Lake. Three of the teens ages 16, 17, and 18 were in possession of hydrocodone, marijuana and other drug paraphernalia. Approximately 10 of the young adults charged were from Monroe County.
· In January 2012 in Orleans County, five people are under arrest after police in Orleans County finished an eight-month investigation into prescription drug sales. On January 27, a task force from local police departments executed a search warrant on an apartment on West Albion St. in Holley. Inside the house police found $7,000 in various prescription pills, $9,000 in cash and a stolen shotgun.
· In August 2011, five were arrested in Brockport. Police seized oxycodone, hydrocodone and heroin with the street value of more than $2,000 as well as $500 cash and other drug paraphernalia
· In October 2011 in Wayne County, five were arrested on "operation pill pusher.' Those charged were allegedly selling prescription medications including, hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl patches, as well as imitation controlled substances. The investigation also found that several people were purchasing monthly pain prescription from folks in a three-county region and then re-selling them for a large profit, police said.
· In November 2010 in Livingston County, a man died of heroin overdose and his two roommates were arrested after transporting his body after he died.