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Wed April 18, 2012
Prescription Pill Bill Passes House On Third Day Of Special Session
FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Investigators would be able to easily identify and charge unscrupulous doctors who overprescribe painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs under legislation passed by the House on Wednesday.
The measure was a top priority for Gov. Steve Beshear that he included in a call for a special session that began on Monday.
Within three days of convening, the Democratic-controlled House passed the measure 70-28. It now goes to the Republican-led Senate, where it is expected to undergo significant revisions.
State Rep. John Tilley, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said prescription drug abuse has reached epidemic proportions in Kentucky, where more people are dying from overdoses than from car wrecks - nearly 1,000 per year.
"We know that we will lose three people today, and, every day that we won't act, we'll lose three more people to prescription overdose deaths," Tilley told fellow lawmakers Wednesday.
The measure would require all physicians to tap into the state's prescription monitoring system to determine if patients seeking painkillers or anti-anxiety drugs have recently gotten similar medications from other doctors. Investigators from the attorney general's office also would monitor the prescribing practices of doctors, allowing quick investigations into questionable behavior.
The Kentucky Medical Association opposes the House measure, citing the "broad and overarching authority" given to the attorney general to gain access to what members believe should be private medical information.
The KMA also objected to a provision that would require each doctor in the state to pay a fee of up to $50 a year to the attorney general's office to maintain the drug monitoring system.
A bloc of GOP lawmakers who opposed the measure raised concerns about investigators from the attorney general office's essentially looking over the shoulders of the state's physicians. They argued it could negatively affect patients who have a legitimate need for painkillers or anti-anxiety drugs. State Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, said putting law enforcement in charge of a drug monitoring program that has always been under the auspices of a health services agency is objectionable.
"The underlying assumption is that for every physician who prescribes you are under suspicion," Floyd said. "Every patient who wants a prescription for hydrocodone, OxyContin, you are under suspicion."
The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce endorsed the legislation, saying it would help to eliminate "a workplace and occupational safety hazard" caused by people reporting to their jobs impaired by drugs.
Tilley said drug use has made it difficult for some businesses to find enough employees who can pass drug screenings.
"There was a recent store opening in the state where there were 800 job applicants, and 600 of those 800 job applicants tested positive for drugs, ineligible for jobs at a time when folks need jobs," he said.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said many people suspect that the actual number of overdose deaths is three to five times higher higher than is currently being reported.
"This bill goes a long way to putting a stop to a problem that has taken so many of our citizens and left a void in so many families," Stumbo said. "We cannot afford to ignore it any longer."