CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the fourth year in a row, West Virginia sheriffs will push lawmakers to grant them access to the state's prescription drug tracking system.
Only about 15 troopers in the West Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation and 15 drug task forces around the state have access to the database, which collects information about controlled substances, the doctors that prescribe them, the pharmacies that dispense them and the patients that receive them.
All other police officers needing information from the system must contact someone already authorized to use the database or obtain a court order.
On Monday, Cabell County Sheriff Tom McComas asked members of the Legislature's judiciary subcommittee to support widening access to the database to sheriffs of counties not covered by a drug taskforce.
Others contend that opening the database to more people increases the chances of the information being misused, or the system's security being compromised.
Rudi Raynes-Kidder, executive director of the West Virginia Sheriffs' Association, said 20 state counties are covered by taskforces. The group would like the remaining 35 sheriffs to have access to the database.
"We don't think every officer in the state should have access to this," McComas, who also is president of the sheriffs' association, told lawmakers.
He said being able to retrieve information about doctors, pharmacists and their patients would greatly assist investigations, however.
McComas said at one point Dr. Anita Dawson, a former Milton practitioner who plead guilty last year of issuing fraudulent prescriptions, was writing more prescriptions in her office than St. Mary's Hospital's emergency room. She was sentenced to two years in federal prison Monday by U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers
"That'd be a handy piece of information when you're working a case," McComas said.
Speaking outside the meeting, McComas said the sheriffs' association is not asking lawmakers for a "blank check." He said officer already must maintain certification to access the state's Division of Motor Vehicles database, and would be willing to receive similar certifications for the controlled substance system.
Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, pointed out that databases like the Division of Motor Vehicles' system only give police information based on specific searches. If you search for "John Smith," for instance, you would not receive any information on "Jon Smith" or "Jonathan Smith."
The prescription drug database, on the other hand, would give police "unfettered access" to nearly 30 million records, Jenkins said.
He said the Legislature should set up checks and balances for the system if access is widened, pointing to Ohio's controlled substance database as a possible option.
David Potters, executive director of the state Board of Pharmacy, said individual officers in Ohio have access to that state's drug database but cannot see any data on the system.
Police use that system to request information about specific doctors, pharmacies or patients. The Ohio Board of Pharmacy's staff then gathers information from the database and sends it back to the officers.