A long-sought expansion of Pennsylvania’s system for tracking prescription drugs is expected to hit the governor’s desk this week.
The broadened database would monitor opioids, the powerful painkillers whose abuse has been linked to a spike in fatal heroin overdoses.
“This is going to save lives,” said Rep. Matthew Baker, R-Tioga, on the House floor. The measure passed overwhelmingly and is scheduled to receive final approval in the Senate Wednesday. Gov. Tom Corbett is expected to sign the bill.
The proposed database expansion would also track drugs treating migraines, seizures, and anxiety, as well as some cough medicines.
Lawmakers have wrangled over whether law enforcement authorities should need a search warrant to access the database. The measure approved by the House and Senate requires only a court order. The Office of the Attorney General would scan the system on behalf of law enforcement agencies.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania criticized the proposal when it received preliminary votes in the House last week. Spokesman Andy Hoover said the plan’s supporters “abandoned patient privacy and acquiesced to prosecutors’ demands to give them easier access to Pennsylvanians’ personal, private medical information than they have under current law.”
Doctors and other prescribers would not have to check the system for each prescription, just the first one they write for a recipient of a monitored drug. The legislation also requires prescribers to check the database if they suspect drug abuse.
The Pennsylvania Medical Society, which lobbies on behalf of doctors, applauded the House’s approval of the expanded database, calling it a tool to help doctors decide “if the person sitting in their exam room is a doctor shopper, addict, or a patient with legitimate pain.”