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From the desk of Senator Kemp Hannon: July 26, 2012

Senator Kemp Hannon is calling on the assembly to pass his legislation to increase penalties for illegal prescription drug use.

“Today’s [July 17] announcement detailing the indictment of 48 individuals allegedly involved in a scheme to defraud New York’s Medicaid program of millions of dollars highlights the need for passage of my legislation (S. 5260-C) to increase criminal penalties for diverting prescription drugs,” said Senator Hannon. “This legislation passed the Senate unanimously two years running and has wide spread support from health care professionals and law enforcement.”

In these most recent cases, the illegal drug ring was dealing HIV medication worth more than $1,500 a bottle which was obtained for a fraction of that amount from Medicaid recipients who paid little if any co-payment.

At a June 7, 2011 public hearing conducted by chairs of the Senate Health and Codes Committees (link: http://www.ny senate.gov/event/2011/jun/07/consider-legislation-criminalizing-improper-transfer-and-inappropriate-possession-), witnesses explained how stash houses filled with expensive medications had been found. The prescriptions were obtained by street dealers who approach Medicaid recipients leaving pharmacies and offer to buy their medication for cash.

From the stash houses the prescriptions were resold to pharmacies who, in turn, dispensed them to unsuspecting customers and submitted a new payment claim for the same medication.  

“My bill would help address this growing problem by establishing criminal sanctions that better fit these kinds of crimes,” said Hannon.  The bill has stalled in the State Assembly.

Senate bill 5260-C creates crimes that would apply to people who are buying up or possessing large quantities of prescriptions for non-controlled substances with no lawful or medical basis. The bill also makes it a crime for health care professionals to fraudulently prescribe “patients” with no medical need or who purchase or dispense medications that have been acquired through the black market.

“This is not just about fraud and the diversion of Medicaid money,” said Hannon. “Patients who are sick are selling their medicine on the street for cash and other unsuspecting patients are purchasing black market medication at pharmacies. Black market medications are often not properly stored and cared for which can cause harm to patients.”

Senator Hannon has been working hard to address the State’s prescription drug abuse crisis and was successful in passage of several important pieces of legislation including I-STOP, which will ensure that prescribers and dispensers will have access to timely information on the pain medication patients have been prescribed and thus put an end to doctor shopping.

However, legislation to strengthen penalties for diverting non-controlled substances must also be adopted in order to put an end to this illegal activity and send a strong message that those who choose to engage in it will be appropriately punished.