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New York State's Regulation Placing Benzodiazepines on Triplicate Prescriptions: The First Year, 1989

NCJ Number
Date Published
12 pages
The New York State Department of Health (DOH) regulation requiring benzodiazepines to be prescribed on official triplicate prescription forms went into effect on January 1, 1989, and the DOH monitored several data sources to determine the regulation's effect.
It was found that the regulation significantly curtailed the diversion of benzodiazepines into illicit use, as evidenced by several indicators: 95 percent reduction in benzodiazepine use by a group of about 3,400 patients suspected of diverting the drugs into illicit use at a rate of almost 250,000 prescriptions annually; 76 percent reduction in prescriptions dispensed by pharmacies suspected of being "pill mills"; increase in benzodiazepine street prices; and 31 percent in emergency room admissions involving benzodiazepine overdoses for January through April 1989. The DOH estimated that, before the regulation, 300,000 patients in New York State had been prescribed benzodiazepines for at least a year and had become physically and psychologically dependent or were at great risk of being dependent. As many as 100,000 of these patients had been taking benzodiazepines for 7 years or more. The DOH was especially concerned because as many as 150,000 of those on benzodiazepines for more than a year were elderly individuals who were at the greatest risk for medication-caused injuries. Although opponents of the regulation claimed that alcohol consumption increased in conjunction with reduced benzodiazepine prescribing, data obtained from New York's Department of Taxation and Finance showed that the total volume of alcoholic beverages sold in 1989 was lower than the total volume sold in 1988. In addition, emergency room admissions involving benzodiazepine overdoses declined from 2,637 in 1988 to 1,617 in 1989. As a byproduct of the regulation, about $18 million in public funds were saved in 1989 through reduced benzodiazepine prescriptions by physicians participating in Medicaid and various State and local government employee insurance plans. The DOH concluded that the most important effect of the triplicate prescription system was its ability to prevent drug abuse and misuse, prescription counterfeiting and forgery, and resultant injury to the public. 1 table