Pennsylvania is arming itself with a new health IT tool in the fight against prescription drug abuse, doctor shopping, and fatal overdoses. A bill to create an electronic statewide prescription drug database passed a vote on the State House floor by 191-7, in the hopes of giving providers and law enforcement agents better insight into the habits of over-prescribing “pill mill” physicians and patients at risk for dependence or injury from controlled substances.
“If we can get this bill enacted and signed into law, it is absolutely going to save lives across the state of Pennsylvania,” said state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-18. “Doctors and prescribers and pharmacists are going to be able to go on their computers now and they’re going to be able to see who’s doctor-shopping and who’s pharmacy-shopping, and hopefully — not put an end to it — but really cut back on the abuse that’s gone on out there.”
In 2010, Pennsylvania ranked 14th highest in the nation for drug overdose deaths, with 15.3 deaths per 100,000 residents. Drug poisoning now surpasses motor vehicle accidents as a cause of death by injury, with 89% of the 14,000 poisoning deaths in 2008 attributed to medications. Expenses due to alcohol and drug misuse cost the nationwide healthcare system more than $120 billion per year, a figure that the Affordable Care Act will try to address by turning drug addiction into a chronic disease so treatment will be covered by more insurance plans.
Other states have been taking a closer look at their prescription drug abuse problems by revamping laws around electronic prescribing in Oregon, drug database security in Florida, and treatment programs in California. Every state except Missouri now has some type of prescription monitoring program in place. As electronic prescribing rates continue to rise, now reaching more than three-quarters of providers and pharmacies, collecting electronic information on prescribing habits and troublesome patients is providing an opportunity for state law enforcement agencies to go after criminal abusers of the system.
An amendment to the Pennsylvania bill requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant before accessing the database in the course of a criminal investigation when looking for Schedule II drugs, which include popular medications like Oxycontin and Oxycodone. While the amendment faces some opposition from representatives unhappy with putting limits on law enforcement’s use of the data, the bill still garnered overwhelming support and it is likely it will pass the Senate more or less intact.
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