NY lawmakers back one-year delay in required switch to electronic drug prescriptions

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ALBANY, New York — New York legislators want to postpone until next year the deadline for doctors to issue only electronic drug prescriptions, saying many still lack the required federal approval to do that for painkillers and other addictive drugs on the government list of controlled substances.

The bill passed the state Senate and the Assembly Health Committee this week. Assemblyman John McDonald, the bill's sponsor and a practicing pharmacist, said Wednesday he expects the full Assembly to pass it in two weeks.

The electronic prescriptions — connected to a central database that doctors and pharmacists can check — are intended to prevent prescription fraud and doctor shopping for addictive painkillers and illicit resales.

"It's up and running," Senate Health Committee Chairman Kemp Hannon said. That checking happens now, and many electronic prescriptions are being transmitted to pharmacies for other drugs.

New York's law establishing the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing was enacted in 2012. The requirement for doctors and other prescribers to check the database began in August 2013.

"A separate provision in I-STOP for prescribing controlled substances is the only thing being delayed," Hannon said.

Meanwhile, it appears there has been a decrease in prescriptions for opioids and that some dentists and orthopedic doctors are cutting 30-day prescriptions for the narcotic OcyContin down to three or five days of pills, Hannon said. The impetus for New York to quickly establish the statewide electronic prescription system came from 2010 statistics showing 21 million original prescriptions for opioids were written, not including refills, in a state with 19.5 million residents.

"We had an addiction problem," Hannon said.

According to McDonald, about 98 percent of the state's pharmacists, who generally use only a few computer system vendors, will be ready to meet the March 27 deadline with the federal approvals. But a significant number of physicians won't because of contracts with various computer system vendors who still need Drug Enforcement Administration approval, he said.

"The majority of new prescriptions that I'm receiving are electronic," said McDonald, whose family pharmacy is in Cohoes, north of Albany. The purpose of the one-year delay is to ensure a smooth transition and that patients aren't stuck with paper prescriptions they can't fill, he said.

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that they'll review the bill.

Under current law, doctors and other prescription writers can request one-year waivers from the requirement they go to electronic prescriptions, according to the Health Department.

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