President Bush signed into law a bill to create electronic monitoring programs to prevent the abuse of prescription drugs in all 50 states.
The new law creates a grant program for states to create databases and enhance existing ones in hopes of ending the practice of “doctor shopping” by drug abusers seeking multiple prescriptions. It would authorize $60 million for the program through fiscal 2010.
The bill, signed late Thursday at the president’s Crawford, Texas, ranch, was sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican representing Kentucky’s 1st District.
Kentucky’s existing electronic prescription monitoring database, called KASPER – Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting – would be eligible for enhancement grants under the bill. Establishing programs in adjacent states would help prevent abusers from crossing borders to get prescription drugs and then bring them back into Kentucky.
“It’s going to be a tremendous boost (for the Kentucky program) and be much more effective,” Whitfield told The Associated Press.
A July letter from the American Medical Association in support of the bill called prescription drug abuse “one of the fastest growing public health problems” in the United States. The letter cited a 2002 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey that estimated there were 6.2 million recreational prescription drugs users then.
The bill passed the House by voice vote and the Senate by unanimous consent in July.
Robert Benvenuti, inspector general of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said he hadn’t seen full details of the new law yet. However, Benvenuti said he thought it was going to “be very positive” for Kentucky.
“If all states had the ability to tap into each others’ information we would know that that person is doctor shopping,” Benvenuti said. “It will allow states to see not only what’s going on in their states but what’s going on in other states.”
Nineteen states have existing programs that vary in effectiveness, Whitfield said. Illinois, which borders his western Kentucky district, has a program that only tracks Schedule II drugs, such as cocaine and oxycodone, leaving drugs such as codeine and the brand names Vicodin and Valium unreported, said John Halliwell, Whitfield’s legislative director.
Neighboring Tennessee and Indiana do not yet have such programs, Halliwell said.
Some federal money has been appropriated for state monitoring programs in the past on a limited basis. Those grants were administered by the Department of Justice, but this law will place the program under the Department of Health and Human Services instead.
“This is a health problem, and the Department of Health and Human Services is the most logical place to run a prescription drug program,” Whitfield said.
Some in Congress worry the law will invade privacy. “This bill lacks fundamental privacy protections, such as notifying patients if their information has been lost or stolen,” said Democratic Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, whose amendment to add that notification to the bill was defeated in committee. “The lack of such safeguards virtually guarantees that this well-meaning effort to combat drug abuse will become a scandalous invasion of the privacy of innocent bystanders.”
Whitfield said his staff worked with Markey and others to address many of those privacy concerns, including requiring states to have standards for the protection of information and requiring states to establish penalties for the unauthorized use of data.
“If we feel like it’s being abused we would definitely take action,” Whitfield said.
Associated Press writer Joe Biesk in Frankfort, Ky., contributed to this story.