For about a year, state lawmakers have considered how to make it easier to track prescription drug abuse in Pennsylvania.
Supporters say a plan to expand a patient database may be close to final passage.
The commonwealth already has a database to track the drugs most prone to abuse. Pending legislation would expand the tool to include prescriptions that treat migraines, seizures, and anxiety, as well as some cough medicines. Once in the database, those prescriptions would be subject to a dragnet by doctors, pharmacists, and (to an as yet unknown degree) law enforcement.
Police, prosecutors, and health care professionals have warned lawmakers for more than a year about an “epidemic” of opioid abuse enabled by easy access to drugs resembling morphine, and few ways to catch people who scam doctors and pharmacists for pills.
Hearings across the commonwealth have underscored the need for a better monitoring tool. The House and Senate have both advanced their own variations on a database that monitors more drugs and allows more access to professionals.
“Either one could get to the finish line in the four weeks the Legislature plans to be in this month and next month,” said Scot Chadwick, legislative counsel for the Pennsylvania Medical Society, which represents member doctors. The group supports a more expansive database.
Lawmakers still must negotiate whether checking the database will be mandatory before writing or filling each prescription. Doctors and pharmacists are opposed to making the database search mandatory.
“We want to create a useful tool for prescribers as opposed to an administrative burden,” Chadwick said. “There are many cases in which a physician would want to query a database but there are also many situations in which a physician clearly doesn’t need to query a database.”
Lawmakers also differ on how law enforcement should access the database. Some think they should need a search warrant to see individuals’ prescription history. The House proposal would require a search warrant; the Senate plan has no such requirement. District attorneys are opposed to such a mandate.