House to consider trio of bills

A state medical association and lawmakers are trying to clamp down on fraudulently obtained prescription drugs in Alabama through better monitoring and more penalties for those who seek them and those who issue them.

A trio of bills expected to be debated today in the Alabama House would hinder the practice of “doctor shopping” for prescription drugs; make the state’s prescription drug monitoring program more accessible; and better regulate pain management services in the state, according to proponents.

“What they’re designed to do is crack down on prescription drug abuse in Alabama,” said Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, the Senate sponsor of all three bills. “Particularly, doctors who go out and issue, fraudulently, too many prescriptions.”

“Doctor shopping” is a term used to describe the practice of individuals visiting several doctors, medical clinics or hospital emergency rooms in an attempt to have pain medication prescribed at each place.

The state department of public health has cited Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics when discussing concerns about prescription drug abuse or illegal re-sale. In 2008, most of the deaths in the U.S. that were because of drug overdoses were caused by prescription drugs, according to health officials.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s rate of prescription painkillers sold per 10,000 people in 2010 was among the highest in the nation.

The Medical Association of the State of Alabama is supportive of the bills. Dr. Jerry Harrison, a family practitioner in Haleyville and association Board of Censors member, said the prescription drug monitoring bill will allow for better tracking of patients who see multiple doctors in order to obtain as many prescriptions as possible.

“(Senate Bill 114 and House Bill 152) criminalizes (doctor shopping) to give them an incentive to stop,” he said.

The prescription monitoring bill also allows the state Medicaid agency to look for costly prescription abuse among its patients.

According to that agency, during a one-year period, about 3,100 Medicaid patients had six or more different narcotics prescribers and an average of 15 prescriptions each. The total cost to Medicaid was about $500,000.

“You’ve got to think all those people aren’t using those medications for medically sound reasons,” Harrison said.

Another bill puts more regulations on pain clinics.

In 2011, Florida cracked down on so-called pill mills with stricter regulations and penalties. The Associated Press reported that Florida was considered the epicenter of prescription drug abuse, with pain-management clinics supplying drug dealers and addicts with illicit prescription painkillers.

“In Florida, which had a horrible problem with pill mills, they passed legislation that closed those down,” said Harrison, who also is a medical director at nursing homes in Tuscumbia and Decatur. “That’s why we need pain clinic legislation — to keep them from coming here.”

Harrison said each bill can stand on its own, but the three will be more effect if enacted together.

Ward said he expects the bill to be approved by the House this week and then move on to the Senate.

By Times-Daily: Click here for full story

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