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The Alabama Senate on May 2 granted final passage to a series of bills that will help combat the abuse of prescription drugs.

The three-bill package will enhance the tracking of prescriptions for opioids, painkillers and other commonly abused drugs, prevent “doctor shopping” and provide the State Medicaid Agency with tools to combat drug abuse among its patients. The bills now go to Gov. Robert Bentley for his signature.

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, who sponsored the legislation in the Senate, said these are necessary tools for combating a dangerous and costly problem in the state of Alabama.

“We clearly have a problem on our hands when statistics show that one out of five Americans have abused prescription drugs, and that more have died from painkiller overdoses that cocaine and heroin combined,” Ward said. “Not only is this a dangerous trend, but estimates have shown that prescription drug abuse has cost us more than $70 billion a year.”

House Bill 150, sponsored by state Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, allows physicians and up to two of their designated employees to access a prescription drug monitoring program database maintained by the Alabama Department of Public Health. The State Medicaid Agency would also be provided similar access. Since 2006, anyone prescribing controlled substances in Alabama has been required to report the dispensing of those drugs to the database and access to the system would allow doctors to track past prescriptions given to their patients.

House Bill 151, sponsored by state Rep. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, allows for the regulation of pain management services in Alabama and provides the Board of Medical Examiners the authority to promulgate rules. In addition to requiring that pain management services could only be provided at locations owned by physicians or registered with the Secretary of State, the bill also provides for licenses suspension and disciplinary actions in the case of a public health danger.

House Bill 152, also sponsored by Weaver, allows law enforcement to effectively prosecute instances of “doctor shopping” in which patients visit a variety of physicians in order to obtain prescriptions for the same or similar controlled substances. The bill protects the doctor-patient relationship by clarifying a patient would have to attempt to “deceptively” obtain multiple prescriptions over a “concurrent time period.”

Initial violations of the statute within HB152 would result in a Class A misdemeanor with a fourth conviction in a five-year period rising to a Class C felony.

Published 4:18pm Thursday, May 2, 2013

FROM STAFF REPORTS, Shelby County Reporter

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