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Health Column: Adjusting to new state prescription rules

Roughly two weeks after a New York State mandate took effect requiring that all prescriptions be transmitted to pharmacies electronically, local doctors and pharmacists say they’re adjusting to the change. 

“It’s been fine,” said Paulette Ofrias, a pharmacist at Southold Pharmacy. “We haven’t had any problems or issues.”

Although the mandate was scheduled to begin last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended the deadline to March 27, 2016. The change is a key component of the state’s Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act, or I-STOP. The wider initiative, which Mr. Cuomo signed into law in 2012, aims to crack down on abuse of prescription drugs, particularly opioids.

Regulations requiring electronic transmission of prescriptions for controlled substances, like the highly abused oxycodone, took effect in 2014.

In a press release issued late last month, the governor said the newest reform will “improve patient safety, reduce the number of fraudulent or stolen prescriptions and help combat prescription drug abuse across New York State.”

Dr. Joseph Duva, a gastroenterologist at East End Internal Medicine in Riverhead, said his practice had been transmitting prescriptions to pharmacies electronically for at least a year. He said the state’s latest initiative will further reduce prescription forgeries and thefts.

“The time has to come to have a way of monitoring this,” Dr. Duva said. “People were stealing our prescription pads, for crying out loud.”

Tom Serio, a pharmacist at Martin Drugs in Riverhead, said adjusting to the mandate was “hard” the first day. But by the second day, he said, “everything went smoothly.”

“Some doctors are old school and they don’t want to realize that things are changing and we’re entering the electronic age,” Mr. Serio explained. “They probably were putting it off as much as they could. Now it’s here and they really have no choice.”

Despite the convenience of transmitting prescriptions electronically and the abuses the practice helps prevent, Ms. Ofrias said the mandate may have “unintended consequences.” She’s concerned, for instance, that the reform will prevent patients from being able to comparison-shop at pharmacies in order to find the lowest prices. Dr. Duva echoed that sentiment.

“[Patients] can’t just go to whatever pharmacy they want now,” he said. “They have to go wherever we’re e-scribing.”

According to Mr. Cuomo, this fear is unfounded.

“Patients seeking the best prices for the medications can still comparison-shop before asking their doctors to send their prescriptions to their preferred pharmacy,” the governor said in a press release.

While the mandate may take some getting used to, Ms. Ofrias said any kinks will eventually be ironed out.

“We’ll adjust to it,” she said. “Everybody will adjust to it.”

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