Mayor Michael Bloomberg is again pushing new regulations aimed at making New Yorkers healthier. This time, he's calling for restrictions on the amount of prescription painkillers emergency rooms can give patients.
All New York City's public hospitals will adopt new guidelines that forbid emergency room doctors to give out more than three days' worth of opioid painkillers to patients, or to refill lost or stolen prescriptions for such painkillers. The measure also forbids ER doctors to prescribe long-acting opioids like methadone or extended-release oxycodone.
The new voluntary guidelines were explained in a statement released by the Mayor's office on Thursday, and at a press conference held by the Mayor that same day at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens.
The new guidelines are designed to reduce the number of painkillers in circulation and to cut down on abuse, says the statement. In addition, Bloomberg cited a need to reduce crimes associated with opioid abuse, such as Medicare fraud and holdups at pharmacies.
"Between 2004 and 2010 ... the number of painkiller-related emergency room visits in our city has increased by 143%," Bloomberg said at a press conference on Thursday.
Health Commissioner Thomas Farley took the microphone and said that about two million prescriptions are written for opioids every year in New York City, which amounts to one for every four people. Farley also said there were about 40,000 New Yorkers currently dependent on these drugs.
After marijuana, prescription drug abuse (which includes the non-medical use of pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives) was the most common kind of illicit drug use by Americans between the ages of 12 and 25 in 2011, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which polls about 67,000 people every year. The survey also found pain relievers to be the most commonly misused prescription drug in America.
"In the heat of the moment in an ER, it shouldn't be the ER doctor's role to think through and anticipate the patient's ongoing needs for opioids," Pamela Brier, the CEO of Maimonides Medical Center told The Huffington Post over the phone. "That should be the responsibility of the patient's primary care doctor, or if the patient has a broken limb, the patient's surgeon."
Maimonides Medical Center is a 700-bed, non-profit teaching hospital in Brooklyn that voluntarily decided to adopt Bloomberg's guidelines regulating emergency room painkiller prescriptions.
However, the new restrictions may leave in the lurch some people who legitimately need painkillers. While many have access to primary care physicians who can give longer-term prescriptions for pain relievers, the New York Times points out that many low-income and uninsured Americans use the ER as their primary source for health care. The Times also notes that it can often take longer than three days to schedule appointments with many health care specialists.
At public hospitals, the new guidelines will apply only to the emergency room, not to other departments. The guidelines will not apply to private hospitals and doctors.