New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a new initiative Thursday to limit the supply of painkillers to the city's emergency rooms in hopes of reducing prescription drug addiction.
Under the new city policy, most public hospital patients will no longer be able to get more than three days' worth of narcotic painkillers. Critics argue the move would hurt poor and uninsured patients who use emergency rooms as their primary care doctor.
"Supposing it is really true so you didn't get enough painkillers and you did have to suffer a little bit," Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show. "The other side of the coin is people are dying and there's nothing perfect. …There's nothing that you can possibly do where somebody isn't going to suffer and it's always the same group [claiming], 'Everybody is heartless.' Come on, this is a very big problem."
Bloomberg also suggested the number of pain pills being prescribed had contributed to an increase in crime outside of pharmacies from robbers looking to steal the drugs.
Similar rules have been adopted in Washington state and Utah. Dr. Thomas A. Farley, New York City's health commissioner, told The New York Times Thursday that opioid painkillers are "heroin in pill form." He said 40,000 New Yorkers are dependent on painkillers and need treatment. Painkillers were involved in 173 accidental overdose deaths in the city in 2010, a 30 percent rise from five years earlier.
The city does not have the authority to impose these rules on its hospitals, but Farley said several private hospitals, including NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan and Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, would adopt them voluntarily.