Legislators propose electronic opioid prescriptions

David Weissman

Pennsylvania doctors are currently required to give patients handwritten opioid prescriptions, but several state lawmakers are attempting to move that process online.

State Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Hanover.

Rep. Tedd Nesbit, R-Butler and Mercer counties, introduced legislation to mandate the electronic prescribing of opioid medications as a small step toward combating the current opioid and heroin epidemic facing the state. The bill's cosponsors include Reps. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, and Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township.

Sen. Richard Alloway, R-York, Adams, Cumberland and Franklin counties, plans to introduce companion legislation in the Senate later this week, according to his chief of staff.

Alloway said the bill, which he first introduced last session, came from a meeting he had with the Pennsylvania Orthopedic Society. Electronic reporting will help the state track doctors' and patients' opioid prescription habits, officials say.

Jonathan Bigley, the society's director, said electronic prescribing is a vital tool for patients and physicians, as written prescriptions are more likely to be lost, stolen, altered or sold.

Physicians can prescribe all other medications electronically, but an outdated provision in the state Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act restricts opioid prescriptions to handwritten paper strips, Bigley said.

Bigley said Nesbit's and Alloway's bills are modeled after law enacted in New York, which allows the Secretary of Health to detail emergency situations — such as a power outage — in which handwritten opioid prescriptions would still be allowed.

Improved tracking of prescriptions is not the main reason for the bill, Bigley said, but it would potentially cut down on patients' ability to "doctor shop," which refers to patients going to multiple doctors in order to increase the chance of receiving opioid prescriptions.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.