Of the 47 states with prescription drug monitoring programs, Pennsylvania is the only one that does not allow data sharing with doctors.
State lawmakers hope to change that before the end of this year’s legislative session.
“We are in the midst of an epidemic of addiction and abuse of pain medications,” said state Rep. Matt Baker, R-Bradford/Tioga, who is sponsoring one of the bills that address drug monitoring in Pennsylvania. “The bottom line is this will save lives.”
Proposed legislation, House Bill 1694 and Senate Bill 1180, which would create a prescription database accessible to doctors and pharmacists, has stalled in the House and Senate. The Senate bill sits in committee in the House, where Mr. Baker said it will likely face amendments that would return it to a vote in the Senate.
The House bill has been awaiting a Senate committee vote since Oct. 30.
Physicians in the Pittsburgh area said the establishment of a statewide prescription drug monitoring program would help to curb Pennsylvania’s high rates of painkiller abuse and addiction. The database would allow medical officials to inhibit “doctor-shopping,” the practice of soliciting prescriptions from several healthcare providers.
“I really can’t emphasize enough that we need the legislature to move to create that database,” said Jack Krah, executive director of the Allegheny County Medical Society. The more education and information the state can provide to physicians, Mr. Krah said, the better their prescribing practices would be.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania opposes both bills on the grounds that they infringe on individuals’ privacy.
Andy Hoover, the state ACLU’s legislative director, said the organization will consider retracting its resistance only if stringent restrictions are placed on access for law enforcement officers. As the Senate bill currently stands, prosecutors are required to get a court order based on reasonable suspicion to look through the data.
“There are few things in our lives that are more personal and private than our medication history,” Mr. Hoover said. “The legislature wants all patients in Pennsylvania to sacrifice their privacy because a very small minority of people are abusing those medications.”
He added that a standard of reasonable suspicion is generally used to justify minor actions, such as stopping a vehicle in traffic, whereas a search warrant is currently required of law enforcement officers who want to look through a doctor’s office or a patient’s medicine cabinet.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a vocal supporter of prescription drug monitoring in the state, countered that such privacy concerns ignore the legislation’s potential for enacting positive change.
“Law enforcement’s goal is to prevent the imposition of barriers that prevent access to life-saving information, not create open access to the information,” she said.
The court order requirement is a compromise, said Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland/York, who is sponsoring the senate bill. She added that the proposed legislation aims to “balance the needs of law enforcement with a reasonable privacy interest.”
Ms. Vance said the Senate has agreed to pass a series of technical amendments proposed by the House, but she has not heard back on whether a new vote will be moving forward.
Unless expedient action is taken, Ms. Vance said, patients will continue to experience the consequences of opioid addiction.
“I don’t mean to be dramatic, but people may die if we don’t get this done soon,” she said.
Yanan Wang: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1964 or on Twitter @yananw.