Panel narrows scope of pill bill

Panel narrows scope of pill bill

March 9th, 2011 by Joy Lukachick Smith in News

A bill to target the growing prescription drug abuse problem in Georgia was rewritten Monday night to exclude tracking anti-anxiety and weight-loss drugs and steroids - a decision that could eliminate the state's option to use federal funding, authorities say.

Document: House Bill 184

"It's basically taking out the meat of [the bill]" said Rick Allen, executive director of the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency.

House Bill 184, which would set up a prescription monitoring program in Georgia, provides for only the tracking of Schedule II controlled substances - which include painkillers such as hydrocodone and Oxycontin.

But popular anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax, which was the most overdosed prescription drug in the state last year, would not be monitored as the bill stands, Allen said.

Georgia is one of seven states without a prescription monitoring program. Such programs keep track of prescription drugs and who buys them. Not having the program attracts illegal "pill mill" operations to the area, authorities said.

Police now believe about 40 pill mills are in Georgia.

Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold and the House sponsor of the bill, said he has rewritten it to address privacy concerns from lawmakers in the House's Judiciary Non-Civil Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth.

Critics of the bill argue that the database could make patients' medical history too easily accessible to the public, but Weldon said only the state's Drugs and Narcotics Agency would have full access to the database.

"We want to keep this as minimally invasive for patients who are law-abiding citizens," Weldon said.

Setzler didn't return calls seeking comment.

But if the bill doesn't include the other abused prescription drugs, the state won't be able to file for federal grants to operate the program, Allen said.

"There's several grants we were trying to get to run the program," he said.

The database would allow doctors access to a patient's prescription history and would alert a physician if a patient was going to multiple doctors to get the same prescription, a tactic known as doctor shopping, said Dr. John Antalis, a Dalton physician and member of the Georgia Composite Medical Board.

"The main goal of this is for us physicians who see patients," Antalis said. "I'm not sure you could do this any other way."