State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Drug monitoring plan tweaked for patient privacy

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Oct 21, 2013 4:46 AM

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Legislation to expand Pennsylvania's program for tracking prescription drugs in the commonwealth just got a little more complicated.

The commonwealth is an outlier among neighboring states - it monitors prescriptions most prone to abuse, but turns a blind eye to other categories of drugs. A proposal to expand the dragnet is on the legislative fast-track, to the dismay of civil libertarians, who say it violates patient privacy. They had a coup last week when state lawmakers passed an amendment requiring law enforcement to get a search warrant before combing the database.

"I do not think that asking for law enforcement, when it comes to reviewing someone's prescription history, to get a warrant, is that big of a hurdle," said Rep. Dan Miller (D-Allegheny) authored the change.

But the bill's sponsor, Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga) said it just makes the job of narcotics officers more difficult. "My goodness, I don't know why we'd want to tie their hands. The CDC has ranked Pennsylvania the ninth-highest in prescription drug overdoses in the nation," he said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the Alliance of States with Prescription Monitoring Programs, 48 states and one territory have such programs, and only a few require law enforcement to get a search warrant or court order before accessing them.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society, which has pushed for the expanded program, doesn't have a problem with the search warrant requirement. It's unclear whether the search warrant change will stick if the bill heads to the Senate (the proposal still needs one more vote from the full House).

Pennsylvania's existing prescription monitoring database only tracks drugs most prone to abuse, such as opioids. The state attorney general's office can access the database without a warrant right now. Under pending legislation, prescribers and doctors would also be able to access the information of who's getting what prescriptions. The proposal would also bring three other major drug categories into the program, including a slew of medicines that treat migraines, seizures, and anxiety, as well as some cough medicines.

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