Suffolk DA releases 99-page report on painkiller abuse

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota released Thursday a new report detailing the county's prescription drug epidemic.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota released a grand jury report Thursday that recommends — among other things — felony charges for doctors who over-prescribe painkillers, as well as mandatory blood tests for drivers involved in accidents that cause death or serious physical injuries.

The unprecedented report defines the scope of a “painkiller epidemic” in the county, Mr. Spota said during a press conference in Hauppauge.

The 99-page document includes testimony from law enforcement officials, government regulators, physicians, pharmacists and drug manufactures, as well as drug addicts and drug dealers.

Drug sale arrests of prescription pills has increased 878 percent between 2001 to 2011, officials said, and prescription drug arrests related to DWI arrests increased by 413 percent over the past decade. Last year alone, 231 people died in Suffolk County from drug overdoses.

The recommendations will be sent to state and local officials to be turned into legislation, Mr. Spota said.

“Now is the time for legislators to put their words into action,” Mr. Spota said. “Before one more life is lost. Before one more family is shattered.”

To better prosecute drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol that are involved in fatal or serious physical injury accidents, the report recommends mandatory blood testing be enacted.

Currently, law enforcement has to obtain a search warrant if a driver refuses to take a blood test.

As for doctors prescribing the drugs, Mr. Spota said that many people find themselves in the situation of being “accidental addicts” because some physicians are prescribing a month’s supply of painkillers to their patients when only a few days worth would suffice.

Not only that, if a month’s supply isn’t finished and then stored in a medicine cabinet, family members, especially children, can find that they have easy access to highly addictive drugs like Oxycodone and Hydrocodone, he added.

The report recommended the creation of new felony charges would allow law enforcement to more effectively investigate and prosecute practitioners who unlawfully prescribe medication — commonly known as “pill mill” prescribers, who currently face almost no consequences for their actions.

“Clearly, there are practitioners that are providing painkillers to addicts,” Mr. Spota said. “These practitioners are no different than drug dealers and that’s how they should be punished.”

But Mr. Spota acknowledged that the county can’t arrest its way out of the problem.

The same grand jury — which has indicted 26 people for prescription drug crimes — also recommended eliminating written prescriptions and requiring doctors to issue painkillers through the state’s E-Prescribing system.

The system prevents doctor shopping and holds prescribers accountable through the unique log-in required to access the system, the report states.

Although more people are becoming addicted to painkillers nationwide, government officials believe the problem is worse in Suffolk County than in other parts of the country because it’s more affluent area.

The report comes nearly a year after David Laffer, a prescription drug addict, killed four people at a Medford pharmacy.

He pleaded guilty in November and is serving a life sentence without parole.

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Suffolk County Grand Jury Report – Diversion and Dissemination of Controlled Substances