By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The fastest growing drug problem in Alabama is the illicit use of prescription drugs. On Tuesday, Alabama State Representatives Jim McClendon (R) from Springville and April Weaver (R) from Brierfield sponsored a package of three bills to address this growing epidemic.
Rep. Jim McClendon said, “There’s no doubt that Alabama is suffering from a drug abuse epidemic as evidenced by statistics from just a few years ago showing just under 200,000 adults abused prescription drugs in our state. In addition to the human toll, the National Institute of Health estimates the societal cost of prescription drug abuse is as high as $50 billion a year in the United States, so dramatic steps are obviously needed.”
Rep. April Weaver said, “Prescription drug abuse is on the rise, and healthcare providers across the state can confirm that the cases are becoming more frequent. With passage of these commonsense bills, we can help prevent prescription drug abuse by addressing it at the point of prescribing, which will stop the problem before it occurs while also protecting patient confidentiality and preserving the rights of healthcare providers.”
House Health Committee Chairman McClendon sponsored House Bill 150. Chairman McClendon said that the state has had a database tracking controlled substances in place since 2006. HB 150 makes additions and adjustments to the database. It also adds two members to the advisory committee and allows the committee to use teleconferencing. HB 150 would allow physicians and up to two of their designated employees to access that Prescription Drug Monitoring Program database maintained by the Alabama Department of Public Health. The State Medicaid Agency would be given access, as well. Anyone prescribing controlled substances in Alabama are required to report the dispensing of those drugs to the database and access to the system would allow doctors to track past prescriptions given to their patients.
McClendon said that the database is designed to look for abusers. One example would be that patient who gets a 90 day supply filled and then 30 days later is filling a new 90 day supply. The data base also helps doctors identify when one of their prescription pads have been stolen and then the thief forges 50 prescriptions that that doctor did not write.
American have more prescriptions than any other people in the world and Alabamians have more prescriptions for opioids, painkillers and other commonly abused drugs than any other state per capita. A lot of those drugs wind up being trafficked on Alabama’s streets. The database is designed to prevent instances of “doctor shopping” and provide the State Medicaid Agency with tools to combat drug abuse among its clients.
Rep. Weaver sponsored HB 151. House Bill 151 allows the state to regulate pain management services in Alabama. The legislation provides the Board of Medical Examiners the authority to regulate pain management practices and requires that pain management services be owned by physicians or registered with the Secretary of State. HB 151 gives the Board of Medical Examiners authority to suspend licenses suspension and conduct disciplinary actions.
Rep. Weaver said that the Alabama Medical Association is very concerned with so called “pill mills” and the diversion of prescribed medicines to the illegal trafficking market on Alabama street corners and they have reviewed and support this package of bills.
Rep. Weaver said that Alabama Governor Robert Bentley formed a task force a year ago to study what the state of Alabama can do to fight prescription drug abuse. Rep. Weaver is currently employed in healthcare administration at Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster and has spent 20 years in the healthcare industry. Rep. Weaver has been working with the task force for the last year. In addition to Rep. Weaver, Bentley appointed representatives from the Alabama Medical Association, Alabama Medicaid, the insurance exchange, the Board of Medical Examiners, and Senator Billy Beasely (D) from Clayton, and other experts to the task force.
Rep. Weaver said, “This is a huge issue in my district and across the state.” “We like being number one in football but we don’t like being number one in prescription drug abuse.”
Rep. Patricia Todd (D) from Birmingham said that way too much prescription drugs especially pain medicine like lortabs are winding up on the streets of Alabama. Todd said that we need to get a handle especially on doctors who write a prescription without any concern about their patients getting addicted to the drugs.
Rep. Mary Moore (D) from Birmingham said that the state needs to make sure that appropriate pain management practices deliver what their patients need but the state needs to regulate those pill mills that are out there.
Rep. Richard Baughn (R) from Lynn said that the state needed to get a handle on regulating “pill mills.”
Rep. Weaver also sponsored House Bill 152, which allows law enforcement to effectively prosecute instances of “doctor shopping.” Penalties under HB152 would result in a Class A misdemeanor with a fourth conviction in a five-year period rising to a Class C felony.
Weaver said that the task force asked what can we do to make Alabama better. These three bills are some weaknesses that the task force identified early on. Rep. Weaver said, “This is a first step toward getting where we want to be. These are first steps because they are easy to implement.”
The package of bills are designed to help combat the illegal acquisition and abuse of prescription drugs in Alabama. All three bills passed with overwhelming support from the legislature. All three bills now go to the Alabama Senate.