New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday signed legislation to postpone until next year the deadline for doctors to issue only electronic drug prescriptions.
Lawmakers who backed the measure said many physicians still lack the required federal approval for their computer systems to do that for painkillers and other addictive drugs on the government list of controlled substances.
The electronic prescriptions — connected to a central database that doctors and pharmacists can check — are intended to prevent prescription fraud, doctor shopping for addictive painkillers and illicit resales. The requirement for doctors and other prescribers to check the database began in August 2013.
"This is a victory for patient safety," said Dr. Andrew Kleinman, president of the Medical Society of the State of New York. "The fact that many software companies are not ready for e-prescribing could have resulted in patients' inability to fill their prescriptions."
Sen. Kemp Hannon, who chairs the Senate Health Committee, said the only thing being delayed was the provision of the program called I-STOP for prescribing controlled substances.
Many prescriptions in New York are now electronic, though some doctors are still writing them on paper.
The new measure pushes back the date requiring electronic prescriptions to March 27, 2016 — three years after the state regulations were issued.
The impetus for New York to quickly establish the statewide electronic prescription system came from 2010 statistics showing 21 million original prescriptions for opioids were written, not including refills, in a state with 19.5 million residents.
Authorities have blamed that glut of prescription opioids for helping spur wider use of illicit and equally addictive heroin.
According to Hannon, there appears to have been a decrease in prescriptions for opioids, with dentists and doctors are cutting 30-day prescriptions for the narcotic OxyContin down to three or five days of pills.
Assemblyman Roy McDonald, also a pharmacist, has said that about 98 percent of the state's pharmacists, who generally use only a few computer system vendors, would be ready to meet this year's March 27 deadline with the federal approvals. But a significant number of physicians wouldn't because of contracts with various computer system vendors who still need Drug Enforcement Administration approval, he said.