In an effort to help combat rising drug abuse and accidental deaths from overdoses or lethal combinations, Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon), a member of the House Human Services Committee, this week voted in committee to support legislation that would create a pharmaceutical prescription drug database. House Bill 1651 would allow pharmacists and law enforcement the ability to find via a secure website whether or not a particular individual is having multiple prescriptions for highly addictive drugs filled at multiple pharmacies.

"Earlier this summer, the Human Services Committee held two public hearings on the issue to see whether a monitoring program is needed in Pennsylvania and how such a program would work," Heffley said. "Pennsylvania is one of the few states without such a monitoring program, and the need is evident within our own community in Carbon County. I am pleased to support this legislation and look forward to voting on it on the full House floor."

Heffley noted that the hearing included testimony and personal experience from local parent Karen Flexer, whose son Brett's tragic death occurred after he took half of an unknown pill at a party. When combined with alcohol, it caused his accidental death. Lisa Shiffert of Coaldale and Wendy Gurensky of Lehighton also attended the hearing. Shiffert lost her son, Cody Wentz, to a prescription drug overdose last year.

Specifically, House Bill 1651 would create a database to enable informed and responsible prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances and to reduce diversion and misuse of the drugs of concern. The intent of the bill is to pinpoint the potential for abuse and misuse of prescription drugs, namely those that are highly addictive controlled substances like pain relievers. By establishing this online registry, Heffley said, doctors and pharmacists can keep track of dangerous prescription drugs and be alerted if someone is suspected of "doctor shopping" or "pharmacy shopping."

The practice occurs when people seeking drugs go to several doctors or pharmacies who do not know their medical histories and might be more inclined to arbitrarily prescribe medications. Currently, a smaller scale registry exists with the Office of the Attorney General for criminal investigations. Heffley believes a broader registry would not only help with investigations but would help prevent drug abuse or catch it in its earliest stages so that individuals can receive prompt and appropriate treatment.

"This monitoring program would in no way interfere with the legitimate use of prescriptions for the vast majority of people who have written permission from their physicians," Heffley said. "This registry would be just one of many tools that law enforcement, physicians and pharmacists would have in preventing the spread of drug abuse. We owe it to the individuals and families of those who are suffering from drug abuse to put this registry in place."

The legislation also seeks to encourage treatment for the people who are identified as having an addiction problem and would call for continuing medical education for prescribing health care providers to learn more about identification, referral and treatment of addiction. In total, 47 other states are monitoring prescriptions in some way now, and the U.S. government is likely to support interstate communication in the near future. The bill has language to allow communication among states so Pennsylvania can also help people who live near a border with another state, many of whom seek treatment in the other states near their residence. The legislation now moves to the House floor for consideration.