Pa. bill targets prescription drug abuse - abc27 WHTM

Pa. bill targets prescription drug abuse

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More than one Pennsylvanian every day dies from a prescription drug overdose.

It is a huge problem and it's caught the attention of lawmakers in Harrisburg.

House Bill 1694 passed out of committee this week and will be more robustly discussed in coming weeks.

The bill would create the Pharmaceutical Accountability Monitoring System; a database with a patient's drug history so that they can't run from one doctor to another and accumulate prescriptions unbeknownst to the doctor.

It is a familiar pattern for abusers and addicts.

"A person could go to various pharmacies," said Brent Ennis of the Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians. "If they have insurance, one time they might use their insurance card, the other time they pay cash. There are various mechanisms to try to avoid detection."

Doctors mostly support House Bill 1694 and the database it would create. They call it an important tool in the fight against prescription abuse.

"More people are dying of prescription drug abuse than cocaine and heroin combined," Ennis said.

Law enforcement is also largely on board. Attorney General Kathleen Kane wrote a letter to lawmakers seeking their support of House Bill 1694. It read in part, "not only does this legislation help doctors, pharmacists and law enforcement to identify abusers, more importantly it also helps to prevent victims."

State Representative Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia) called prescription drug abuse "an urgent issue" in Pennsylvania, but Cohen said he also worries about Big Brother.

"I think there are dangers when the government gathers information on the personal lives of people," he said. "There's a certain right to privacy in this society."

The American Civil Liberties Union says the bill goes too far and tramples on the freedoms of millions of Pennsylvanians. In a statement, the ACLU writes, "the privacy of the child who breaks his arm on his bike or who takes attention deficit medication is being sacrificed because someone across town is abusing these substances."

But how much freedom are Americans entitled to? How much do they reasonably expect?

They're videotaped in public.

Their phone calls and emails are monitored.

Thirty-six states already have drug databases like the one being proposed in House Bill 1694.

According to the ACLU, Virginia's drug surveillance program was hacked in 2009; exposing the sensitive information of eight million residents.

"Once something's on a computer, there are inherent security risks," Cohen said.

But those risks are outweighed by the potential benefits of the bill and its ability to detect and treat drug abusers.

Representative Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) has an amendment that could get traction in the coming weeks.

He'd like to prevent random bureaucrats from access to everyone's drug history. He'd like to see software flag only those with unusual behaviors and have those people scrutinized by humans while the rest of the prescription pool remains anonymous.

"I have civil libertarian concerns of my own," Cutler said.


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