ATLANTA -- A bill that would create a state electronic database to track prescriptions is drawing kudos from the White House drug czar.
Gil Kerlikowske, on a down-South visit to talk about a spike in prescription drug abuse, said such a database can help Georgia deflect the growing attention of rogue drug-dealing doctors.
“Prescription drug deaths surpass heroin and cocaine deaths,” said Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, speaking by phone during his Atlanta visit between stops at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Capitol.
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area is the nationwide epicenter of so-called “pill mills,” he explained. Those are clinics run by unethical doctors who will write prescriptions for drug abusers.
“But clearly, as Florida begins to clamp down on pill mills, they’re going to look for other places,” Kerlikowske said, such as neighboring Georgia. Drug abusers are most often seeking painkillers such as OxyContin, he said. Overdoses can lead to addiction or, in more than 500 Georgia cases last year, death.
Forty states have created database programs, but only 34 are active. Florida fits in that gap. Its legislation is in place, but a dispute between would-be vendors has it stuck in court and inoperable.
Georgia’s bill would require prescribers to enter their orders for certain drugs in an electronic database visible by drugstores and other prescribers. That means pharmacists could see patterns of frequent purchases that suggest doctor shopping. It also means law enforcement, with a subpoena, could look for heavy prescribers.
The Georgia Composite Medical Board, which licenses medical practitioners, would organize the database. It would cover the drugs on the federal Schedule II, III, IV and V lists, which classify drugs in part on their addictiveness.
State Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, is a pharmacist and authored the bill in his chamber. He called prescription drug abuse in Georgia an “epidemic.”
“All our bordering states have a database program,” he said, so that’s pushing the crooks toward Georgia. There are perfectly healthy young adults approaching pharmacists with potentially dangerous prescriptions, he said, who show a Florida driver’s license and have a Kentucky license plate. He concluded, “that’s not legitimate.”
The database would run on federal grant money or any other sources or donations the administrators might find. The Legislature is not obligated to fund it. Kerlikowske said federal funds can help in the startup but that in terms of lives saved and hospital emergency visits foregone, the database would be a good value in any case.
A group of state representatives, including Buddy Harden, R-Cordele, is carrying a bill identical to Carter’s in their chamber. That kind of support on both sides of the Capitol bodes well for the bill’s future.
Carter has also just filed a separate bill that would shift pseudoephedrine -- an ingredient in methamphetamine -- to Schedule V. It would still be available without a prescription, but it could only be sold at pharmacies.
But a database won’t stop prescription drug abusers who are breaking laws already, said Jeff Sexton, Georgia legislative director for the Libertarian Party. It would simply be a layer of government intervention between doctors and law-abiding patients. The same is true of Carter’s proposal to move pseudoephedrine to Schedule V, Sexton said. Overall, “it’s an invasion of medical privacy,” he concluded, “That’s what it boils down to for us.”
The House database bill is scheduled for a Judicial Non-Civil Subcommittee hearing Monday. The Senate companion is awaiting a date in front of the Health and Human Services Committee.
To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.