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Powerful lobbyist touts drug tracking.

Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

SALEM - An unusual lobbyist - the White House - is touting a bill in Salem.

The Bush administration is trying to revive a stalled proposal that would make it easier to pursue illegal prescription drug abusers. But some fear that the federal government would use the bill to also target doctors who participate in Oregon's Death with Dignity program.

The bill, championed by several medical organizations and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, would create a database to track prescription-drug transactions. Backers say the goal is to give doctors and pharmacists with a way to guard against doctor-shopping by patients who have prescriptions filled multiple times as a way to stock up on pain-killers and other drugs.

The proposal, Senate Bill 180, has been shelved by Sen. Bill Morrisette, a Springfield Democrat who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee where the bill has received two hearings. Morrisette said he has been convinced by an advisory panel of pain-management experts that the bill could impose a chilling effect on doctors' willingness to prescribe adequate dosages to help patients manage chronic pain. The Oregon Pain Commission also has raised concerns that the federal government could use a database identifying doctors and patients to go after physicians who prescribe life-ending drugs under Oregon's Death with Dignity Act.

The White House has tried to undo that voter-passed law.

The Death with Dignity Act has been challenged to the U.S. Supreme Court by the Bush administration, which has argued that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has the right to suspend doctors' licenses to prescribe controlled substances if they issue prescriptions for deadly dosages.

"We're very concerned about the information being accessible to law enforcement, regulators, the DEA, you name it," said Springfield pharmacist and Pain Commission chairwoman Kathy Hahn. "Because of that, we just have to say we can't go there yet because the bad outweighs the good."

Morrisette said he had no intention of moving the bill as long as Pain Commission members oppose it.

"That bill is going to die a death with dignity," Morrisette said.

But the White House hasn't been willing to let that happen. John Horton, associate deputy director of the White House office of national drug control policy, has called members of the commission, encouraging them to drop their opposition to SB 180, said Hahn.

"To have our little commission full of volunteers called up by the White House and asked how we can change our mind, we were a little shook up," she said.

In testimony to Morrisette's committee, Horton called prescription drugs the country's second-most abused drug after marijuana. He told Oregon lawmakers that 31.2 million Americans had used pain-relief drugs non-medically in 2003, up 5 percent from the previous year's levels. He said doctor-shopping was a common way of getting prescription drugs for such usage.

With SB 180, Oregon is one of nine states considering or in the process of establishing prescription-drug monitoring programs, which currently are in place in 22 states. These programs help pharmacists ensure the validity of prescriptions and help doctors confirm that patients are not chasing after drugs, said Gary Schnabel, executive director of the Oregon Board of Pharmacy, which requested SB 180.

SB 180 would require the State Board of Pharmacy to create an electronic database to track prescription drug transactions: the name and address of the patient, the name of the dispensing outlet, the name of the doctor or other medical practitioner who prescribed the drug, and information about the quantity of drugs and dates they were prescribed and dispensed. The Pharmacy Board would keep the data private except in specified situations, including when federal, state or local police obtain a court order as part of an investigation.

Just how hard or easy it would be for a federal agency to gain access to that data is a matter of dispute. Schnabel said that while he understood why Oregon's Death with Dignity Act would prompt concerns, the bill had adequate safeguards against misuse by police or the feds.

"I think people are misinterpreting what's going on here," he said. "This is not some DEA plot to sneak in and get information about what doctors are pre- scribing."

However, critics of the prescription-tracking bill say there's no certainty that federal agencies would not be able to obtain the data.
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Title Annotation:Legislature; The White House backs a bill that would create a prescription database
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 1, 2005
Words:728
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