Legislators in Frankfort, the Kentucky capital, are considering a bill that would give police unprecedented access to confidential prescription records as part of a campaign to eradicate abuse of the pain-killing opioid Oxycontin. The bill would also require pharmacists to demand either photo ID or a signature and a thumbprint from everyone picking up Oxycontin or any other legally restricted narcotic. It has been endorsed by Gov. Paul Patton.
Oxycontin has been blamed for as many as 69 deaths in Kentucky (although that count includes multi-drug deaths and any death involving oxycodone, the opiate in Oxy, but also used in other pain-killing drugs, such as Percocet), and has accounted for 1,145 arrests in the year since Kentucky authorities began a series of multi-county raids dubbed "Operation Oxyfest" last February 6. Since that time, at least 79 newspaper articles, op-eds, or letters to the editor addressing Oxycontin, some in quite hysterical terms, have appeared in Kentucky newspapers.
State Rep. Robin Webb (R-Grayson) filed House Bill 371 (http://www.lrc.state.ky.us/record/02rs/HB371.htm) earlier this year, with three cosigners, and picked up Patton's endorsement last week. It was reported favorably out of the House Health and Welfare Committee on Thursday. The bill would allow state police access to KASPER, a statewide database for doctors and pharmacists that tracks the prescription of narcotic drugs, either in a criminal investigation of a specific person "or where there is an identifiable trend of illegal diversion in a geographic area."
Police have promised they wouldn't use the database except for active criminal investigations, but that was little consolation to former Oxycontin patient Skip Baker, who told DRCNet he had recently switched to Dilaudid because "with this Oxycontin mania, you don't know if they're going to come kicking your door down. It's like the dark ages again," said Baker, head of the American Society for Action on Pain (http://www.actiononpain.org), a grassroots group that advocates for pain patients. "If they do something that stupid, they'll drive Oxycontin off the market," he told DRCNet. "It's the best pain pill yet, but Purdue Pharma won't be able to keep producing it if this harassment keeps up."
Pharmacists have concerns as well. Last year's Walmart "pharmacist of the year" in Kentucky, Richard Shields, told the Daily Independent (Ashland) that requiring doctors to follow strict protocols in prescribing the drug would be a better approach. As for asking for IDs and police trolling the KASPER database, Shields said, "It's like turning over a truck full of gasoline and trying to prevent it from going down the drain."
Mike Mayes, executive director of the Kentucky Pharmacists Association, also expressed reservations. "We believe that the ID provision is alright because we want to be sure the correct person is getting the prescription, but we want to take a serious look at the database access issue," he told DRCNet. "There are patient privacy concerns." The association had not yet taken a position on the bill, he told DRCNet, but Oxycontin abuse was complicating pain treatment, he said. "It is a very good drug for cancer patients who need pain relief," said Mayes, "but when you have people crushing the tablets and snorting it or injecting it, that's a whole other ball game. It is a serious problem, especially in the eastern part of the commonwealth," Mayes said.
The Kentucky Medical Association was less forthcoming with DRCNet, but one spokesman who asked to remain unidentified raised similar concerns. "Our issue is that the way the bill was written would allow state police unabated access to the KASPER database," he said. "We have asked that that be addressed, we don't want them perusing it at their pleasure. We have asked the sponsor to address that, to ensure that it is only for specific investigations."
Webb apparently has addressed that specific concern, replacing "criminal investigations" in her original language with "specific investigations" as the bill now reads. But with the provision for police snooping where there is evidence of diversion in a geographic area still intact, that's a loophole big enough to drive a truck full of Kentucky State Police through.
Jeff Vessels, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kentucky, told DRCNet he had discussed the bill with Rep. Webb and that she had revised the language to address such concerns, but that problems remained. "She's been responsive," he said. "I'm hoping we can get her to move in the right direction."
Skip Baker hopes so too, or better yet, that the bill is defeated. "I can't imagine a law like this being passed," he said. "Let's hope they have enough sense to stop it."