Pill-mill bill passes; attorney general won’t get drug-monitoring system but narcotic-prescribing doctors will have to use it

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, center, walks
with House budget committee chair Rick
Rand and House Majority Floor Leader
Rocky Adkins. (Courier-Journal photo).

Legislators have sent Gov. Steve Beshear a bill to curb prescription drug abuse and crack down on rogue pain clinics, ending the special session of the General Assembly.

The final version left the state’s prescription drug-monitoring system under the control of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the doctor-controlled Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure rather than move it to the attorney general’s office, as the last version in the regular session would have. But in another significant change, it will require doctors and pharmacists who prescribe or dispense Schedule II and III drugs, such as oxycodone and morphine, to use the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system. Only about 25 percent of Kentucky physicians now use KASPER.

Putting the drug-monitoring system in the hands of the attorney general was considered a linchpin of efforts to help law enforcement to proactively identify suspicious prescribers; law enforcement officers can access the database only if they have a case opened, and say they need the data to open cases. But the Kentucky Medical Association called giving law enforcement oversight of information with prescription-drug information a violation of personal privacy. “You are essentially legislating medical care,” said Shawn Jones, president of the KMA.

Beshear, who repeatedly pressured legislators to pass a bill pertaining to the issue, issued a statement this evening expressing his delight. “Even though the prescription drug bill doesn’t include every element we had hoped, it is an enormous bipartisan accomplishment, and it restores Kentucky as a leading state in innovative tactics in battling prescription drug abuse,” he said. “The elements of the bill also help prevent Kentucky from becoming a source state for prescription pills.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who sponsored the bill, called its passage “a step forward” though he “would have preferred a stronger version.” He told reporters that he did not feel this would be the last time lawmakers would be changing laws to fight the problem, and noted that Beshear could use his gubernatorial reorganization powers to change the administration of the system: “I think the governor, in the days ahead, will continue to take aggressive action on addressing this problem.”

The measure will require pharmacists to submit information to KASPER within 24 hours of dispensing a narcotic and doctors must check the system before prescribing one to a new patient. They then would be required to check a KASPER report every three months during a patient’s treatment.

As before, the measure will require most pain clinics be owned by at least one doctor; 33 of Kentucky’s 77 pain clinics are owned by people with no medical background. Those who already own clinics and haven’t had run-ins with the law will be “grandfathered” and be allowed to continue operating. “That really waters it down. A lot!!” Operation UNITE Director Karen Kelly said on Facebook.

Lawmakers also passed the transportation budget bill, which was the main reason why they were called in for a special session by Beshear. They reached an impasse last week when the Senate would not approve the budget, a move Beshear and Senate President David Williams blamed on each other.

There were suggestions that the road and drug issues, the only items that the legislature could consider under Beshear’s call of the session, were related. “As the Senate receded on the amendment to put back $50 million of [road] money into Senate President David Williams’ district, word went out that the House would compromise on the pill bill and let the Senate keep KASPER [where it is] as long as a funding change took place,” Ryan Alessi reports for cn|2. “The Senate sprang into action amended the pill bill and leaders from the two chambers worked together to pass legislation before supper time.”

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