By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States. Teens, between the ages of 12 and 17, abuse prescription drugs more than any other drug other than marijuana. 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.
State Senator Cam Ward (R) from Alabaster sponsored legislation in the Alabama Senate to give the state tools for combating the problem in the state of Alabama. Sen. Ward said, “We clearly have a problem on our hands when statistics show that one out of five Americans have abused prescription drugs, and that more have died from painkiller overdoses that cocaine and heroin combined,” Ward said. “Not only is this a dangerous trend, but estimates have shown that prescription drug abuse has cost us more than $70 billion a year.”
House Health Committee Chairman Jim McClendon (R) from Springville 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 (R)f from Brierfield 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.”
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said in a written statement, “We are united by a common goal, and that is to reduce prescription drug abuse. We will work together on appropriate solutions to this problem. At the same time, we will also discuss ways to continue to ensure proper access for those who legitimately need these medications.”
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. McClendon sponsored House Bill 150. The state has had a database tracking controlled substances in place since 2006. The legislation allows 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. 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.
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 on the floor of the House 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 maintained by the Alabama Department of Public Health. The State Medicaid Agency would also be provided similar access. Since 2006, anyone prescribing controlled substances in Alabama has been 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.
House Bill 152, also sponsored by Weaver, allows law enforcement to prosecute patients for “doctor shopping.” That is when patients visit multiple physicians in order to obtain prescriptions for the same or similar controlled substances.
The Senate approved the three House bills and now the package should go on to the Governor for his signature.