A statewide database would alert authorities to prescription drug abuse — by both patients and doctors — under a bill making its way through the state House.
Sidelined for awhile because of privacy concerns, HB2136 would allow the state pharmacy board to monitor prescriptions and more easily uncover
cases of “doctor shopping,” where patients get drugs from multiple health care providers and pharmacies.
Sometimes these patients are abusing drugs because they’re in pain, and sometimes they’re selling the drugs they get.
“We’d be able to find the doctor shoppers and get them help, and refer the others to law enforcement,” said Hal Wand, executive director of the State Pharmacy Board.
It also would allow state and federal officials to electronically track how much doctors, dentists and others are prescribing.
Currently, pharmacy records are available to investigators and health care providers only in paper form. That requires doctors to call individual pharmacies and investigators to actually make a visit, to track concerns that patients are abusing or selling drugs.
Doctors opposed the original bill because it included a separate registration process that mirrored the federal government’s requirement to register with the Drug Enforcement Administration to dispense controlled substances.
An earlier version, introduced several years ago, required doctors to pay a fee, which doomed the bill, Wand said. In other states, the fees typically pay for the program.
The bill, awaiting floor debate in the Senate, no longer requires registration and the program would be financed from a state Pharmacy Board reserve fund.
It allows the board to spend up to $400,000 to launch the program, including buying and installing the database software and hiring two staff members to administer it. Wand said ongoing costs are expected to be $150,000 to $200,000 a year.
But the program is likely to be funded at first with federal money. As an incentive to states to create drug-monitoring programs, up to $10 million in federal grants are available. Wand’s office has requested a two-year, $390,000 grant.
Similar programs are in place in 33 states, including those around Arizona, raising concerns that people are coming here to avoid detection.
Arizona sales of commonly abused pain medications, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, have more than doubled in the past five years.
According to the federal Survey on Drug Use and Health, one in 10 young adults in Arizona has abused prescription drugs in the past year. Treatment for pain killers and other opiates increased almost three-fold from 1999 to 2005.
Prescription drug abuse has been a growing problem in Arizona, particularly among youths. Gilbert police this week announced the arrests of 12 Highland High School students in the use or sale of the muscle relaxer Soma. That comes two years after 29 Gilbert-area students were busted with Soma, which some kids said they bought in Mexico.
Dr. David Greenberg, an addiction specialist, said the database will be an important tool for doctors, particularly when treating new patients who complain of pain.
The program must have safeguards to prevent outside access to the database, Greenberg said, and penalties for those who misuse the information. Under the bill, it would be a Class 6 felony to use the database improperly.
Wand said the bill doesn’t give anyone access to prescription information they don’t already have.
In addition, he said, the database will allow the board to track drug trends.
HB2136, creates a statewide electronic database for prescription drug monitoring. To track the bill’s progress, go to www.azleg.gov. Or contact the sponsor, Rep. Bob Stump, R-Phoenix, at (602) 926-5413