Drug-tracking bill headed to Pa. governor's desk

| Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, 11:21 p.m.

Doctors, pharmacists and law enforcement officials can better track prescription drugs under a bill headed to Gov. Tom Corbett's desk.

“This is going to save a lot of lives in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Rep. Matt Baker, R-Tioga County. “This is going to save lives; it's going to address doctor shopping, it's going to address drug diversion” and address the epidemic of opiate drug use.

The state House approved the proposal 194 to 2 Tuesday. The Senate, which approved the measure in May, expects to sign off on House changes to the bill Wednesday. A spokeswoman for Corbett said he plans to sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

The measure by Sen. Patricia Vance, R-Cumberland County, a former registered nurse, would establish an electronic database, administered by the state Department of Health, that tracks prescription medications.

Proponents say the database would put a check on doctors who illegally prescribe such medications and limit the use of illegal drugs. Many prescription addicts later turn to cheaper alternatives, such as heroin, law enforcement and medical experts say.

“There's definitely a correlation between heroin use and prescription drug abuse,” said Christine Cronkright, a spokeswoman for Corbett. “We think this is a very critical piece of legislation to monitor prescription drug use across Pennsylvania.”

The proposal is a piece of Corbett's Healthy PA initiative. Cronkright said they hope the database catches potential problems “before individuals have the time to get addicted and try to curb some of that from the get-go.”

Pharmacists or those dispensing medications would enter information into the system, including details of the patient, the doctor who prescribed the drug and dosage information.

The database would track prescriptions of Schedule II drugs, or those deemed to have a high potential for abuse, such as oxycodone, down to Schedule V drugs, which have a much lower potential for abuse but contain a limited amount of certain narcotics, such as cough medicines with codeine.

Forty-seven states have such programs, according to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws.

The system would replace a narrower one maintained by the state Attorney General's Office. Patients, doctors, pharmacists, coroners/medical examiners and licensing boards could access the information.

The Office of Attorney General would perform searches for law enforcement officers for Schedule II drugs but would require a court order for searches of lower-level prescriptions. The information could be used to obtain only a search or arrest warrant.

The office could search the records on behalf of a grand jury investigating a violation involving controlled substances.

Opponents, such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, raised privacy concerns, worrying that law enforcement officials can access the prescription drug information too easily and that having so much data in one place opens the system to possible identity theft.

The group believes Schedule V drugs should not be tracked.

“The Drug Enforcement Agency has said the chance of addiction to Schedule V drugs is very low,” Hoover said. “But every kid who gets prescription Robitussin is going to go into this database.”

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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