BUFFALO — Michael Israel's death of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2011 was a tragedy. The Buffalo 20-year-old had become despondent about his addiction to the powerful painkillers prescribed for his Crohn's disease.
"But the ultimate Greek tragedy is we allow this to happen every day," his father, Avi Israel, said this week at the State University College at Buffalo, where he was part of the announcement of a western New York-wide public awareness campaign about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
"We want to stop the dying of our youth," he said.
The campaign, which grew out of a push by Avi Israel after his son's death, involves billboards; television, print and online advertising; a website; and a 30-minute documentary produced by Buffalo public broadcaster WNED-TV that will air Oct. 22 on Buffalo-area TV stations.
Avi Israel has been a frequent and vocal advocate since 2011 for tackling the growing problem of prescription drug abuse, including testimony in 2012 before the U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control. His advocacy helped lead to New York lawmakers unanimously passing the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing law, or "I-STOP," which went into effect in August.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012 called prescription drug abuse the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States. Between 1999 and 2009, the number of deaths nationwide from opioid painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone nearly quadrupled, and such overdoses cause more deaths than cocaine and heroin combined, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
A growing number of states are trying to crack down on the problem:
• Alabama Republican Gov. Robert Bentley in August signed into law a trio of bills giving more medical personnel, as well as the Alabama Medicaid Agency, access to the state's prescription monitoring program database; tightening the regulations on pain management clinics; and making "doctor shopping" to get multiple prescriptions a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
• Indiana earlier this year gave the state attorney general new oversight powers on pain management clinics and is moving toward mandatory annual drug screenings of people prescribed opioids to ensure they're taking the drugs as prescribed.
• Kentucky in 2012 began requiring the licensing of pain clinics, giving law enforcement officials greater access to the state's prescription drug monitoring database and mandating that doctors examine patients and check electronic prescription records before writing prescriptions for opioids.
• Washington state in 2012 started setting dosage limits for doctors and others who prescribe pain medicines. Any prescription over a certain amount requires a second opinion from a pain specialist.
Regulatory attempts at clamping down on abuse of something that starts as a legal product are particularly challenging, said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
New York's I-STOP includes a requirement that doctors and pharmacists check the state's real-time drug monitoring program database before prescribing opioids.
"I think the next big step is to get it done at the national level so people can't be moving from state to state and getting prescriptions that way," Schneiderman said.
Daneman also reports for the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle