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Officials seek way to track ‘pill mills’

Courtesy photo
Kanawha County Sheriff Mike Rutherford discusses a new initiative to battle prescription drug abuse during a press conference at the Kanawha County Courthouse on Wednesday.

The West Virginia Sheriff's Association is supporting an effort to create a national database to help fight prescription drug abuse.

Databases that track prescriptions paid for by third-party insurers such as Medicare and private insurance companies already exist.

These databases are monitored by companies referred to as pharmacy benefit managers. Third-party insurers pay them to track prescription information, said Amy Bricker, senior director of Pharma and Retail Strategy for Express Scripts.

Express Scripts is a pharmacy benefits manager and monitors prescription drug information for 6,000 pharmacies, Bricker said.    

This information is tracked in the national databases, and can be used to identify "pill mills" and people obtaining prescription drugs to sell on the black market.

However, under the current system information pertaining to the prescriptions is not entered into the databases if the person pays cash for the pills, said Rudi Raynes-Kidder, executive director of the Sheriff's Association.

Representatives of the organization and several law enforcement officials held a press conference at the Kanawha County Courthouse Wednesday to show support for the passage of a federal law that would require information to be placed in the database for any purchase of prescriptions such as narcotics.

"Prescription drug abuse is destroying communities and families throughout the state," Raynes-Kidder said.

Kanawha County Sheriff Mike Rutherford pointed out that prescription drug deaths quadrupled statewide from 2001 to 2008.

Prescription painkillers cause more overdoses in West Virginia than in any other state, he said.

"Drug overdose deaths now outnumber fatal car accidents," Rutherford said.  

Ninety-three percent of those obtaining prescription drugs use a third-party insurer, Rutherford said. However, the other 7 percent pay with cash, and these are the people who cause concerns.

Pill mills are unscrupulous clinics or doctors who prescribe pain medication or anti-anxiety pills to patients who do not need them.

Rutherford said doctors in pill mills often do not even examine the patient, who often requests a specific type of medication.

"And pill mills make it clear they prefer cash," Greenbrier County Sheriff Jim Childers said.

"The idea is not to help people, but to rake in as much cash as they can."  

Adding cash purchases to the database would give law enforcement officials another tool to track pill mills and shut them down, Raynes-Kidder said.

The database would have to be nationwide because many West Virginia residents live within 30 miles of a neighboring state, Raleigh County Sheriff Steve Tanner said.

"We don't want to create a database here and have someone drive 40 miles into another state to get a prescription filled," Tanner said.

He pointed out that the databases for prescription drugs are already in place and the cost to add cash purchases would be nominal.

The system could be operational almost immediately, he said.

The West Virginia Sheriffs Association will ask the state's Congressional delegation to support a measure requiring cash purchases be added to the national databases, Raynes-Kidder said.

The databases would provide real-time data to the pharmacy benefit managers, which then could alert law enforcement officials to abnormalities such as a sharp increase in the number of narcotics prescribed by a specific doctor or a patient obtaining multiple prescriptions of the same drug during a day.

Authorities then could begin an investigation or advise the pharmacy not to fill the prescription, Bricker said.

 When asked if notifying law enforcement about a specific individual's prescriptions would violate medical record privacy laws, Tanner answered, "We lose a person a day to prescription drug overdoses."

The program would focus more on the pharmacies themselves and would not look too closely at individuals getting their prescriptions filled, Bricker said.

The legislation requiring the practice is not yet drafted, and officials are unsure if the pharmacy benefit managers would be prevented from identifying people by name when notifying law enforcement, said Mary Rosado, vice president of government relations for Express Scripts.

Officials do not see much opposition to the measure around the nation, Raynes-Kidder said.           

Contact writer Paul Fallon at paul.fallon@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him at www.twitter.com/PaulBFallon


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