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Gillibrand Continues Push To Regulate Opioids For Pain

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand brought her campaign against opioid addiction to Albany's Hope House today. She continues to push for legislation regulating opioid pain medication prescriptions.

Gillibrand has been beating the drum for her "Preventing Overprescribing for Pain Act." Gillibrand said one-time prescriptions written for patients after surgery or dental work can be doorways to addiction. Between 1999 and 2010, she says there was a 400 percent increase in sales of prescription opioid pain relievers in the U.S.  "This legislation would finally give is the tools to start fighting back against overprescription." 

Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard says no one is immune to the lure of opioids.
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard says no one is immune to the lure of opioids.

Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard says no one is immune to the lure of opioids.   "Today, this problem of opioid abuse, there's no respect here of socio-economic background. It can be found in every single community in our Capital District."

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, teens who receive an opioid prescription by 12th grade are 33% more likely to abuse opioids after high school.  Dr. Charles Argoff is a professor of neurology at Albany Medical College and director of the Comprehensive Pain Center at Albany Medical Center.    "We know that for some people, for select people, the short-term use of this class of medicine may be appropriate for a few days. I have personally experienced as a parent seeing my children being given prescriptions for Vicodin for simple wisdom tooth extraction, 60 pills and when you used to be able to give refills, refills. That's not best practice. That has to stop."

If Gillibrand's bill becomes law, the CDC would be required to impose guidelines and restrictions for prescribing narcotic painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone for acute pain management. Acute pain includes pain following a broken bone, wisdom tooth extraction, or other surgeries, whereas chronic pain is long-term pain that can last weeks, months, or years.   "Right here in the Capital Region, between 2004 and 2013, the number of prescription opioid-related deaths rose by 410 percent. Opioid addiction is destroying too many lives in the city of Albany, in our rural communities, and in our suburbs, so it's time for Congress to act."

While passage through the Senate could take time, Gillibrand says the White House could make it happen now.   "They could just tell the CDC to issue these guidelines."  

Also Friday: the Democrat signed her name to a letter to the White House, penned by a bipartisan group of 26 Senators and Representatives, urging President Obama to remove barriers to research on medical marijuana and facilitate new medical research on cannabis and its derivatives.

The Facts On the Growing Opioid Epidemic:

  • Nearly 2 million Americans abuse or are addicted to prescription opioids, and nearly half a million more are addicted to heroin according to SAMHSA.
  • In 2014, nearly 19,000 people died in the United States from overdose related to opioid pain relievers, nearly five times the number in 1999 according to CDC.
  • The increase in opioid addiction is linked to an increase in opioid prescriptions. Between 1999 and 2010, there was a 400% increase in sales of prescription opioid pain relievers in the U.S. Over the same time period, there has not been an increased in the amount of pain Americans report according to CDC.
  • In 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain relievers – enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills according to CDC.
  • Teenagers who receive an opioid prescription by 12th grade are 33% more likely to abuse opioids after high school. The risk for opioid abuse is even higher among teenagers who report little to no previous use of illicit substances according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  • Of teenagers who abuse opioids, roughly half obtained the opioids from a friend of family member, according to research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  • In a paper published by the American Dental Association in 2011, 64% of dentists surveyed preferred prescribing hydrocodone with acetaminophen for a third molar extraction, for an average of 20 pills per prescription. 
  • 4 in 5 individuals who use heroin report prior abuse of prescription opioids, according to SAMHSA.


Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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