Internet prescription database proposed

Posted: Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Filling a prescription at the pharmacy may soon include having your identification and prescription history checked against an Internet database, if a bill proposed by Rep. Mike Chenault becomes law.

The Nikiski state lawmaker wants the Department of Public Safety to establish the Web-based identification and tracking system for controlled substances prescribed for human use.

It is one specific medication, however -- Oxycodone hydro-chloride, an FDA approved narcotic -- that is providing the principal impetus behind the bill. The painkiller is the main ingredient in OxyContin tablets, a timed-release form of the medication that has been the subject of reports of widespread abuse.

Chenault said Medicare and Medicaid account for about $2 million in OxyContin prescriptions statewide. About 16 percent of the prescriptions for the painkiller are written to peninsula patients, he said.

"For a while, almost every day you'd read about someone stealing someone's prescription or breaking into their house and taking their medication," he said. "The issue became how could we track prescriptions and get a handle on this."

Theft may not be the only problem, he added.

"Some of the problems we have heard of are one person with a (medical) problem going and getting a prescription and then going to another doctor to get another prescription and selling OxyContin on the street for something like $8 a milligram when it costs about $2 for an 80-milligram pill."

House Bill 239 would have the Department of Public Safety develop a database that would allow each pharmacist in the state to determine if a prescription for a controlled substance being dispensed for a certain time period duplicated a prescription already dispensed to the same patient covering a substantial part of the same time period. The database would be developed in consultation with the state Medical Board and the Board of Pharmacy, the bill said.

According to the bill, the database would be designed to maintain confidentiality and would only be used by pharmacists. It would require each patient to have an identifying number. The department and the boards would decide how and by whom such numbers and prescription information would be entered in the database.

The law would require patients to provide picture ID when they pick up prescriptions. Pharmacists would not dispense a controlled substance if the database showed the substance already had been dispensed to cover substantially the same period, or if a person's ID did not substantiate that person as the patient or someone designated in the database as entitled to pick up the medication on the patient's behalf.

So far, the costs of such a system have not been determined and no fiscal note accompanies the bill at this time.

Chenault acknowledged there might be some reticence to creating a computer database of medical prescriptions because of privacy issues.

"That will be the battle of the bill," he said. "We don't want to infringe on people's rights. We are looking at some type of secure database. There is no doubt in my mind it is going to be a tough sell, but I think if we get a program put together and people can see that it is going to work, we may be able to bring people on board."

House Bill 239 has not yet been scheduled for committee hearings.

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