State Politics

Reagan calls for tracking of drugs

MANATEE — A statewide central database that could track the dispensing of controlled prescription medications in order to prevent “doctor shopping” and abuse of drugs like the painkiller OxyContin could be in the works in Florida.

Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, Florida’s Speaker Pro Tempore in the House of Representatives, said Wednesday he is hoping lawmakers can address the problem this year.

“I think it’s important, based on the number of, the epidemic of, young people using these drugs, and we’re trying to make sure we can get a handle on the use and spread of these drugs,” said Reagan.

“They shouldn’t be out there. The drugs are there for a particular reason, and once people ‘doctor shop,’ they’re out there selling these medications,” he said.

“Even in Manatee and Sarasota counties, the number of deaths that have occurred in the use of these drugs is amazing,” he added. “These bills would monitor, so people could not buy more than they should. It’s a public safety situation for your young people.”

A notorious case highlighting the problem involved conservative radio broadcaster Rush Limbaugh, a part-time resident of Palm Beach, who made a deal with prosecutors in 2006 that spared him jail time after he surrendered on a warrant charging he withheld information from a medical practitioner, according to news reports. That charge is known as “doctor shopping,” and is a third-degree felony.

In 2003, Limbaugh announced on his radio program he was addicted to pain medication and said he was checking himself into a treatment center. He said he had used powerful painkillers because of a severe, chronic back problem.

The House leadership is reviewing three bills addressing the issue, H.B. 143, 1015 and 897, Reagan said.

If legislators approve such a system, Florida would join 32 other states with similar programs already in place, said Reagan. Regulators overseeing the electronic database would be able to monitor dispensing of controlled substances and identify conflicting or overlapping prescriptions, according to one bill.

“If you go to Walgreen’s or CVS today, their data banks have all your information there,” Reagan said. “What they don’t do is share information with anybody else.”

Asked how monitoring might be accomplished, and whether peoples’ names would be included in the database or if the prescriptions might be tracked by number instead, Reagan said those types of details are still being worked out.

HB 143 requires the state Department of Health to establish an electronic system to monitor dispensing of certain controlled substances. The bill calls for use of “biometric identifiers” of recipients, which might include a fingerprint, an iris print, or other unique individual features, according to Susan Smith, press secretary for the state Department of Health.

The bill also specifies that data transmissions comply with privacy and security laws.

HB 1015 would require the department to establish a prescription drug validation program with a comprehensive electronic system to monitor prescribing and dispensing of some controlled substances.

It also would require compliance with state and federal privacy and security laws, calls for healthcare licensure board sanctions for violations, and looks to federal grants or private sources for funding.

HB 897 requires the state Agency for Health Care Administration to establish a system in which prescribing or dispensing pharmacists and medical care practitioners would submit information in a certain format.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at skennedy@bradenton.com

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