State cracks down on doctor shopping with arrests, database law

As a result of a recent crackdown to thwart 'doctor shopping' linked to painkiller abuse, narcotics officials have made 98 arrests in New York, ABC News reported. The defendants named on June 6 include two doctors and one nurse practitioner on Long Island, who allegedly prescribed hundreds of thousands of pills to people they knew were either addicted to painkillers or were reselling them for profit.

In a separate case, another Long Island doctor was charged with prescribing 782,032 oxycodone pills within three years to people he knew were addicted to the drugs and without giving a medical examination, the Chicago Tribune reported. Each physician faces seven to 20 years in prison, if convicted.

The bulk of the arrests in such cases have been against patients accused of being doctor shoppers to obtain pills from multiple physicians to feed their addictions or sell pills on the black market. Johanna Pecci, for example, allegedly visited eight doctors who wrote nine prescriptions for oxycodone she filled at seven pharmacies, according to prosecutors. Most buyers, such as Pecci, visit with doctors for just a few minutes and pay $200 or more in cash to get the prescriptions with no questions asked, the newspaper reported.

As a recent post from NPR pointed out, it can be difficult for innocent doctors to avoid getting caught up in aiding addicts' abuse. Despite growing awareness of the problem and newer databases to monitor prescriptions, using such programs still is voluntary in many states. In addition, the data may not be current, and awareness and access to such programs suffers from a lack of funding.

In hopes to resolve these challenges, New York legislators unanimously passed the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act (I-STOP) this week, making it the first state to mandate physicians set to prescribe schedule II, III or IV controlled substances to look at a patient's prescription history online beforehand, FierceHealthIT reported. The act will also require doctors to use electronic prescribing for painkillers within three years. The state's health department must publish regulations by the year's end.

To learn more:
- read the article from the Chicago Tribune
- see the story from ABC News
- check out the post from NPR