A proposal to create a database to track who prescribes, dispenses and gets regulated drugs in Pennsylvania is expected to take another step forward this week as the House of representatives takes it to a final vote.

The House last week considered amendments to HB 1694, also known as the Pharmaceutical Accountability Monitoring System, or PAMS, sponsored by state Rep. Matthew E. Baker, R-Tioga County. State Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, supports the proposal.

If the House approves the bill as of early today, it was in the Appropriations Committee it then goes to the Senate, where some tweaking is expected. If it passes there, it goes to Gov. Tom Corbett to be signed into law. Corbett has made the establishment of a controlled substance database part of his Healthy Pennsylvania initiative.

The database would include such prescription drugs as Ambien, Oxycodone, Immodium, Fentanyl, Adderall, Ritalin, Ketamine, Vicodin, Xanax, Valium, and Robitussin AC.

Joining 47 states

The was amended to require law enforcement authorities to obtain search warrants before accessing PAMS to search prescription records for narcotic painkillers such as Oxycodone and OxyContin.

The House accepted amendments that would allow people whose medical records have been misused through the database to sue. It rejected an amendment that would have exempted prescription drugs that fall under Schedule 5 of the Controlled Substances Act. Those drugs include anti-diarrhea medications and some antiseizure drugs, both of which can contain opiates.

Baker said in a telephone interview early Tuesday that he is confident the measure will receive bipartisan support. If it becomes law, Pennsylvania would join 47 states that use such a database.

Baker, who is chairman of the House Health Committee, said Carbon County is among the top five counties in the state in prescription drug related deaths. Cambria County is the first, followed by Philadelphia, Greene, and Lackawanna counties.

Nationally, Pennsylvania is the state with the 14th highest rate of prescription drug related deaths, he said.

Breaching privacy?

The proposal to create the database has drawn fire from the American Civil Liberties Union, and praise from the Pennsylvania Medical Society.

The ACLU issued a press release shortly after the House Human Service Committee approved the proposal on Sept. 23, saying it was "woefully inadequate" in protections for Pennsylvanians' medical privacy.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society urged lawmakers to support the bill.

"It would be a huge help to Pennsylvania physicians to be able to find out if a patient has recently filled a prescription from another physician for a controlled substance. The ability to access a controlled substance database to help identify scammers is a reality for physicians in many states, but not in Pennsylvania. Exacerbating the problem, scammers know that Pennsylvania is among the few states that don't have a controlled substance database," President C. Richard Schott wrote in a letter to legislators Tuesday.

State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Carbon-Luzerne-Monroe, also believes PAMS is a good idea.

"I have worked with a number of local pharmacists to advance legislation that would create a pharmaceutical monitoring program to help the Commonwealth crack down on prescription drug abuse," he said. "Drug abuse including prescription drug abuse is a public safety issue, and House Bill 1694 would be another positive step toward keeping drugs off the street and away from our children."

How it works

PAMS would require pharmacists and others licensed to dispense drugs that fall under the federal Controlled Substances Act to submit information including the name, birth date, address, and gender of the person receiving the prescription; the prescriber's information; the dosage; the date the prescription was written; the date it was dispensed; the source of the payment for the prescription; the dosage and days' supply, along with other information.

The information in the database would be accessible to state and federal law enforcement authorities, and in some cases, grand juries, medical examiners and coroners.

Leaking information from the database to unauthorized people, or accessing it illegally, would be charged as felonies.

Failing to submit the information could result in a pharmacist losing his or her license and being fined.