A bill that would create a database with the intent of reducing the misuse of prescription drugs has been introduced and voted out of a state House committee.
The goal is a controlled substance database to help physicians, pharmacists and law enforcement officers identify pill-seekers who may be "doctor shopping," said state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, the bill's sponsor.
"Prescription drug abuse and diversion is absolutely epidemic across Pennsylvania," said DiGirolamo, explaining the bill would create a database for all drugs "that are in any way addictive."
"Our emergency room doctors are crying out for this because people are coming in late at night and on weekends, all asking for pain medications, and there is no way to check and tell if the people are for real," said DiGirolamo.
Pennsylvania has a database for a limited
number of drugs that have a high potential for addiction, but it can only be accessed by the attorney general for law enforcement officers, he said.
How it would work: The expanded database would cover more types of drugs and be managed by the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.
When a consumer has a prescription filled, the pharmacy would be responsible for entering the consumer's name and information into the database, said DiGirolamo.
Law enforcement officers will need a specific reason to access the database -- such as working on an investigative case --- and must go through the auditor general to do so, he said.
If a pharmacist suspects someone is abusing prescription drugs, he or she is not required to call police, but should deny filling the prescription and direct the customer toward counseling or other help, he said.
"We want to be able to help out, and if doctors see someone who is abusing drugs, to be able to counsel them and get them help," DiGirolamo said.
About 40 states currently use similar databases, he said.
The cost involved could be between $200,000 to $300,000 for the first year, based on estimates from other states, DiGirolamo said.
"We've got a terrible heroin problem in Pennsylvania, and the heroin problems stem from the prescription drug problem," said DiGirolamo. "Mostly young people are getting hooked on these prescription drugs and, when they get too expensive or hard to find, they switch to heroin because it is cheaper, easier to find, and the high is more intense."
Support: Letters of support for the bill have come in from several groups including the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association and the Pennsylvania Medical Society.
Dr. C. Richard Schott, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, issued a statement saying that Pennsylvania is one of the worst states in the country for overdose deaths.
Pennsylvania is an easy place for a pill-seeker to run a scam, and the only state in the Mid-Atlantic area that has not yet given its physicians a controlled substance database to identify scammers, said Schott.
The Pennsylvania Medical Society believes the proposed database would help physicians to separate patients with legitimate pain from those who are trying to misuse prescriptions, Schott said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths have soared in the past decade, mainly because of prescription painkillers.
Emergency department visits for prescription painkiller abuse or misuse have doubled in the past five years to almost half a million, according to the CDC website.