Kentucky’s pill-mill problem and law to fight it get national airing, with issues of patient privacy versus public health debated

Kentucky’s “pill problem” went more public Thursday when David Hopkins, head of the state’s prescription drug monitoring program, told the National Conference of State Legislatures the true extent of our prescription pain pill addiction. Maggie Clark of Stateline reports that lawmakers “shook their heads in disbelief” when Hopkins said the state’s doctors issued 60 million prescriptions for the 4.4 million Kentuckians in August of this year alone. The stark admission was a way to start talking about where patient privacy ends and public health concerns begin, Clark writes.

Kentucky is among 42 states with operational prescription-monitoring laws but few others require physicians to use the database to chronicle each patient and their drug use before prescribing as Kentucky does. And while the commonwealth allows its law-enforcement officers access to the database, the database is not controlled by the attorney general’s office but, as a nod to patient privacy, by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. In Vermont, legislators fought that battle earlier this year, with police there needing a warrant to access it. When Kentucky’s law enforcement officers were surveyed about the law in 2010, 73 percent said they found the tool “excellent” for obtaining evidence.

At the conference, a report citing a Centers for Disease Control review explained that data collected through 2005 in a limited number of studies
shows that having a prescription drug monitoring program in place had no clear impact on overdose mortality, Clark reports.

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