Drug Monitoring Program Passes Despite ACLU

At the last minute, Oregon lawmakers passed a bill to track prescriptions of controlled substances over objections from the ACLU

July 1, 2009 -- People who doctor shop for painkillers such as Oxycodone could have a difficult time getting multiple prescriptions once state officials set up a drug monitoring database. With the death of pop star Michael Jackson, this issue has dominated the headlines.

In the waning hours of the Oregon legislature on Monday evening, lawmakers gave the go-ahead to create such a program (Senate Bill 355) over the objections of the ACLU. For the past six years, lawmakers have wrestled with similar legislation. 
There’s plenty of work to be done before the database turns into a reality. During the next six months, state officials must come up with a business plan that touches on the security implications, legal ramifications, software programs and looks at the operational costs of running such a system. They’ve been given $350,000 to conduct the analysis.   
Before the database can get under way, lawmakers must give their consent next February when they hold a special legislative session. “It will come back for a gut check,” said Don Bishoff, legislative aide to Sen. Bill Morrisette (D-Eugene). “Security is everyone’s big concern.”
Security is exactly the reason that Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) opposed the legislation. He objects to a government-run database that includes people’s names and home addresses.  
 “I realize we’re trying to solve a real problem, but this approach is the most dangerous way to do it,” he said. “This is way out of balance and premature, and we have no sense of what the cost is going to be.”
His fears were echoed by Andrea Meyer, legislative director for ACLU of Oregon, who told lawmakers she’d never seen such strong opposition from her constituents in the past 10 years. “People have significant concerns when government has access to their data.”
The issue of confidentiality doesn’t bother Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg), who believes it’s critical for providers and pharmacists to know whether people are getting multiple prescriptions that could harm them. “This is a patient safety issue,” he said. 
Oregon is surrounded by states that have similar programs, contended Morrisette, who heard testimony from the mother of a 24-year-old son who died from a drug overdose. “If it had been illegal, someone would have gone to jail,” she said. “It’s hard to tell when someone is doctor shopping for drugs. This is something that absolutely needs be done for public safety, and the benefits far outweigh the risks.”       
Such a program will protect people who are using drugs legitimately, Sen. Alan Bates (D-Ashland) told his colleagues. “We have a massive problem of diversion of drugs from physicians’ offices. It affects everything in our society, from schools, to prisons, to mental health situations to the practice of medicine. The federal government believes it’s the greatest drug problem right after meth in our country. To ignore it is inappropriate.”
Thus far, 32 other states have set up drug monitoring databases with the help of the Harold Rogers Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which has grant funds from the U.S. Department of Justice (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/grant/prescripdrugs.html
To keep the program afloat, everyone who is authorized to prescribe or dispense controlled substances will be required to pay a $25 annual fee, which will raise $1.3 million during the 2009-11 biennium. The Public Health Division of the Department of Human Services will monitor the program through the Office of Disease Prevention and Epidemiology.


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