Prescription Drug Bill Rejected By State House

Mar 29, 2012

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- A House bill would give the Kentucky attorney general's office the responsibility of tracking doctors who overprescribe painkillers, and a version passed by the Senate would sharply limit the number of prosecutors given access to the monitoring data.

Changes the Senate made to the measure on Wednesday were rejected by the House on Thursday, leading to the appointment of a conference committee to work out differences before the state Legislature's 2012 regular session ends April 12.

Aimed at curbing drug abuse, the original bill proposed by Democratic Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo of Prestonsburg would have given prosecutors access to prescription information under KASPER, the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Monitoring Program.

Sen. Tom Jensen, R-London, who led the effort to pass the bill in that chamber, put forward several significant changes Wednesday, including what he called "gatekeeper provisions" to alleviate doctors' fears of "free for all" investigations.

Jensen's version would create a unit in the attorney general's office of no more than 20 employees who would have access to KASPER data, and those employees would have to be trained in its use. They could share the data with police, federal authorities, prosecutors and others only in the case of "bona fide investigations" involving specific individuals, based on criteria resulting from conversations with "appropriate licensing boards," Jensen said.

The state auditor would have to annually examine the system to make sure improper investigations were not occurring.

The governor could enter into an interstate compact on the monitoring of prescription drugs so that information could be shared among law enforcement officers and others in participating states.

Individuals also would be allowed to see their own KASPER records.

The key provision of Stumbo's bill is that KASPER be moved from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to the Office of the Attorney General.

The speaker has been critical of the cabinet and the state's medical licensing board for not doing enough to fight Kentucky's drug epidemic.

Stumbo's legislation is an attempt to control "pill mills" - pain clinics operated by, or in partnership with, unscrupulous doctors who over-prescribe pain medications such as Oxycodone and Hydrocodone.

Jensen told his fellow Senators on Wednesday that moving KASPER to the attorney general's office was the most contentious part of the bill, but also the most important.

"I can tell you, what we've been doing with KASPER in the cabinet has not worked," he said. There is still a huge prescription drug abuse problem in the state, and it is not being controlled.

Jensen said that about 80 percent of all criminal cases in courts involve drugs, and Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, said more than 80 Kentuckians a month, on average, are dying of prescription drug overdoses.

The Senate defeated an amendment by Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, that would have kept the program in the cabinet.

In addition to the KASPER provisions, the Senate version of the bill retains the provision that pain clinics be owned by licensed physicians.

It also requires that pharmacists use KASPER to report prescriptions within 24 hours of filling them, but it does not require that physicians do so.

Jones, who had worked with Higdon on a similar bill to control prescription drug abuse, said that unless doctors are required to use KASPER when they write prescriptions, the legislation would not be as effective as it needs to be. But he said that's an issue that could be taken up in the conference.

Brian Wilkerson, a spokesman for Stumbo, said it's possible senators and representatives could negotiate on the bill this week. But added the speaker said those talks may take place during the Legislature's last week.