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NYC hospitals to restrict opioid prescriptions

In an attempt to curb prescription painkiller abuse, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a plan for the city’s 11 public hospitals to restrict prescribing of the medications.

Under the plan, patients will not get be able to get a prescription for more than three days’ worth of painkillers such as Percocet and Vicodin, and OxyContin, fentanyl, and methadone will no longer be dispensed at all. Lost, stolen, or destroyed prescriptions will not be replaced. The city’s private hospitals are not subject to the mandate, though private hospitals such as NYU Langone Medical Center will voluntarily adopt the policy.

The rate of painkiller-related ER visits nearly tripled between 2004 and 2010, from 55 visits for every 100,000 people to 143 for every 100,000 people. The policy, Bloomberg says, will also cut down on leftover prescriptions at home. "The guidelines were also designed to prevent an excess supply of opioid painkillers. We know that 3-out-4 people abusing painkillers obtain them from leftover medications," Bloomberg said at the policy announcement.

But will restricting prescriptions at public hospitals be enough – or will some patients needlessly suffer? The policy, of course, is being met with some skepticism. Said Dr. Alex Rosenau, president-elect of the American College of Emergency Physicians, "Here is my problem with legislative medicine: It prevents me from being a professional and using my judgment." Docs at public hospitals will not have the flexibility to treat poor and uninsured patients – who often go to public hospitals as a primary source of care – at their discretion.