At Staten Island CVS store, I-STOP helping in Rx drug war

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – As the heroin and prescription drug epidemic continues to worsen, a glimmer of good news emerges with success stories from pharmacists in Great Kills.

Kasey Gaeta, the pharmacist at a CVS on Hylan Boulevard in Great Kills, said combined, the state's I-STOP prescription drug database, the InterConnect program that allows about 40 states states to share prescription information, and a new requirement that prescriptions be filed electronically have had a profound impact on blocking addicts from getting access to prescriptions to abuse.

Prescription drug monitoring programs "have really been a great tool already for our pharmacists to really evaluate whether or not prescriptions being dispensed are for the better of our customer," Gaeta said. "Making sure we're not dispending excessive prescriptions and that we are in fact part of the total care picture for our customer."

She stood with Rep. Daniel Donovan near the pharmacy in the back of the store Tuesday morning to explain how effective the new initiatives have been in combatting the addiction epidemic.

Staten Island has seen at least 51 fatal drug overdoses so far this year, law enforcement officials said last week.

According to the city Health Department, overdose deaths have increased 10 percent citywide in 2015, to 886 from 800 the year before. Preliminary data for fatal overdoses on Staten Island last year is not yet available.

In December, New York joined the almost 40 states that share prescription data with other states.

Donovan called attention to the I-STOP database that state Sen. Andrew Lanza and Assemblyman Michael Cusick got passed into law that allows doctors and physicians to check whether a patient has already gotten an opioid prescription before prescribing or filling another.

With New York now part of the InterConnect system, pharmacists and doctors can see records from other states, something that advocates argue is key to combatting increasing drug abuse.

Donovan recalled years ago when he was district attorney speaking with then-Congressman Michael Grimm about the importance of data sharing across state lines.

"My problem as district attorney, I pointed out, is that I have three crossings to New Jersey," Donovan said. "And we weren't sharing data with New Jersey and New Jersey wasn't sharing data with us."

"For the Staten Island community, New Jersey was my biggest concern."

He had penned a letter, calling on the state to enter the InterConnect group, and later that same day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced New York was joining those other states.

"Since we've added InterConnect … we're able to, with one button in our stores, access New Jersey, our neighboring states, and find out whether or not our customers … are trying to circumvent the systems and the protections we put in place," Gaeta said. "I think our pharmacists feel very empowered to use this tool to make sure that we're taking the best care possible of our patients and to really keep our communities that we serve as safe as we can."

She explained that the pharmacists she works with are trained to spot abuses and potentials for abuse and can deny a patient access to a new prescription if there's no need for it and could be abused.

"Our pharmacists do have to have a sometimes difficult conversation with the patient," she said. But "most of our prescriptions come in electronically now, which is in and of itself a great add."

"Between the I-STOP program, electronic prescribing and in combination with our prescribers, we find that most of those prescriptions never even get written now and we're able to keep excess prescriptions from going out there."

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