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How America's Prescription Drug Addiction Crisis May Get a Whole Lot Worse

Instead of reducing prescription pill abuse, the new regulations may prevent the people who need meds from getting them.

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But people trying to advise state governments across the country about how to regulate prescription drugs aren't happy. Those people include John Carnavale, who assembled the data from the Simeone study and who sits on the Center's board. He said he believes that PDMPs are very effective, and he's urged the Center to package its data and make it publicly available.

"State legislators are going to be looking for things to cut, and these PDMPs could find their way on the chopping block. So I'm really anxious about that," said Carnavale.

Kreiner said that the Center will put out a report on it this summer or fall.

Smith said he's heard that something will be available within six weeks on three to four different occasions over the past year.

"The performance measures are intended to evaluate PDMP effectiveness, and they do that to some extent. Performance measures include how many solicited reports were distributed to different user groups, how many unsolicited reports, how many prescribers are registered to use the PDMP, how many prescriptions, "said Kreiner, before rattling off a lengthy list of other measures.

But, he added, "There are a lot of factors that affect what a PDMP does and its outcomes."

In other words, this data may not be as useful as Smith, Carnavale and Green would hope.

Toward Smarter, Not Easier Drug Controls

Julie Netherland is the deputy director for the New York branch of the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for alternatives to the war on drugs.

"It'll be interesting to see what happens in New York," she said of the I-Stop law, but argued that the state should make lifesaving treatments for overdose victims more widely available, and promote the state's new Good Samaritan law that grants people immunity from legal punishment if they call 911 when someone is overdosing.

Unless there's a sharp drop in drug overdoses in New York after the mandate goes into effect, everyone will have to wait until more research is published to have a better idea of how PDMPs should best be structured. Nevertheless, it's extremely likely that other states are already planning to follow New York's lead.

As those debates occur, meanwhile, we can glean an understanding of just how difficult the process of achieving a smarter, less brutal drug policy can be.

"I think people are still really grappling with what the appropriate regulations are. There are more and more Good Samaritan programs being created. Whether there's a coherent national strategy? I do think that the sort of attention and energy on the very real problem of prescription overdose and addiction is challenging most states and the federal government to think of more humane drug policy approaches," Netherland added.

John Farley is a Baltimore-bred, Brooklyn-based journalist. He is currently employed as an editor at MetroFocus, PBS’ NYC news show and website, where he writes about social justice, healthcare, labor, electoral politics, and race and gender issues.