ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Cases of prescription drug abuse are soaring in Maryland, and the state needs a database to monitor prescriptions to help fight a serious public health concern, a top state health official told a panel of lawmakers Thursday.
Dr. Fran Phillips, Maryland’s deputy secretary for public health services, said the rate of admissions into drug treatment programs between 2007 and 2010 for prescription drug abuse has almost doubled. Phillips also said calls to the state’s hotline for poison control for intentional prescription drug abuse has increased by 69 percent over the same period.
“There’s ample evidence of an urgent public health concern and a need for action,” Phillips told the Senate Finance Committee, which is considering legislation to create a prescription drug monitoring program.
Maryland is one of seven states that have either not started such programs or are in the process of putting them together. The General Assembly approved a prescription drug monitoring program in 2006, but the measure was vetoed by then-Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, testified that abuse of the drug OxyContin has reached epidemic proportions in his part of the state, as well as the jurisdiction represented by Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
“The problem has only gotten worse,” Miller told the committee.
The measure would create a central database that prescribers and pharmacists could use to identify people struggling with addiction. Then their doctors could refer them to drug treatment programs.
The database also could be used to help regulators and law enforcement investigate questionable prescriptions.
But some representatives in the medical community say they fear the monitoring system could create a chilling effect on how doctors prescribe drugs to people who badly need them to manage pain.
Dr. Robert Lyles, an anesthesiologist who specializes in pain management and critical care in Bowie, said he wasn’t opposed to a monitoring program in principle, but was wary of how the legislation has been drafted.
“It’s still very law enforcement-oriented,” Lyles said. “We don’t feel the balance in the approach.”
Supporters of the measure have drafted a series of amendments aimed at addressing concerns in the medical community. For example, they are working on ways to tighten access to the database. Supporters also have proposed an amendment that would require law enforcement to get a court-ordered subpoena to use it.
The database would retain records for five years.
Supporters underscore that Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is backing the legislation this year.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)