NEW YORK CITY — Although fatal overdoses are on the rise in New York, the city saw a 12 percent decrease in the amount of painkillers prescribed to residents in the three years since lawmakers launched a database to discourage users from abusing their prescriptions, according to statistics provided to DNAinfo New York.
Doctors prescribed 2.77 million opioid pills citywide in 2016, a modest decrease from the 3.15 million prescribed in 2013, according to counts tracked by the I-Stop database.
"Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York State continues to take aggressive steps to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic," a spokesman for the state's Department of Health — which runs I-Stop — said in a statement.
The I-Stop bill created an online database that doctors and pharmacists must use to check a patient's prescription history. It also requires all prescriptions to be filed electronically.
It launched in July 2012 in an attempted to curb drug abuse and end "doctor shopping" — where patients visit multiple physicians to get scripts for the same pill.
"With a few keystrokes a doctor can check and consult the records and see what other prescriptions a patient has," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said at the announcement of the law in 2012.
Last year, the state also joined the “InterConnect” database to share patients’ prescription history with New Jersey to stop them from filling the same prescriptions in both places.
The city had been in the throes of an opioid epidemic for more than a decade, with overdose deaths up 46 percent citywide in 2016, according to the city's Department of Health.
The I-Stop law cracked down on the practice "doctor shopping" and provided better records for doctors, but drug dealers seized the opportunity and flooded the streets with a cheaper opioid: heroin.
"The marketers of heroin knew that, so they made the drug widely available and cheap," Luke Nasta, executive director of Camelot Counseling, previously told DNAinfo New York.
Officials blamed the latest spike in overdose deaths on the introduction of fentanyl — a synthetic opioid 50 times stronger than heroin — to batches of heroin.
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Since I-Stop started, every borough in the city had a dip in the number of prescribed opioids — such as OxyCodone, HydroCodone and Codeine — which was similar to a nationwide drop reported last week by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC study found that the prescribing rate for opioids dropped by 18 percent nationwide from 2010 to 2015, but the country still issued more than four times the amount of pills per capita than Europe in 2015. The study did not have numbers for 2016.
In the city, Manhattan had the largest decrease in the number of pills with 14 percent fewer prescriptions — from 671,495 to 575,665 — from 2013 to 2016, according to I-Stop.
Staten Island, which has been the hardest hit by the opioid epidemic in the city, had the smallest decrease with only 8.6. percent fewer opioids dispensed since I-Stop, from 304,353 to 278,108.
The borough with the highest number of fatal overdoses from opioids last year, The Bronx, had an 11 percent decrease in that time, 636,824 to 566,321, the data shows.
Brooklyn, which has the largest population in the city, had the highest dispensed prescriptions in the city in every year tracked.
It dispensed 822,056 opioids in 2013 and had an 12.4 percent decrease to 719,320 last year, according to I-Stop.
Queens had a 12.3 percent decrease in prescribed pills in the three years, from 721,191 to 632,018.
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Experts said the majority of opioid users got hooked on the pills after they were prescribed them to help with an injury and a CDC study found it just takes just one pill to get hooked for some users.
Patients in the study who prescribed a single day of opioids had a 6 percent chance of using a year later, with those given enough for eight days or more having a 13.5 percent of continued use.
Nearly 30 percent of patients given a month-long prescription still use a year later, the study found.