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Two bills aimed at reducing “doctor shopping” for prescription drugs are moving through the General Assembly despite opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which refers to the bills as “prescription medication surveillance” programs. The state House of Representatives approved HB 1694 in October 2013. The state Senate public health and welfare committee approved similar legislation, SB 1180, on March 19.

Andy Hoover, legislative director for the ACLU, said an amendment to the Senate bill would allow prosecutorial access to the prescription database only after a finding of “reasonable suspicion,” a far lower standard than probable cause.

“Under this bill, a staffer in the Department of Health would be able to alert law enforcement to any unusual activity,” Hoover said. “One of the downsides is that patients in some cases might take less medication than they should because they don’t want to be tagged, and some doctors might prescribe less than needed.”

The sponsor of the legislation is state Sen. Patricia Vance, R-Cumberland. Her office did not return a call for comment, but a press release issued when the committee approved the bill said the legislation would expand on a program already in existence in the Attorney General’s Office, a program that monitors the dispensing of Schedule II drugs. The bill would include all drugs, including Schedule V controlled substances—drugs such as anabolic steroids, hydrocodone/codeine and benzodiazepines, such as Xanax.

“Pennsylvania’s drug overdose mortality rate is the 14th-highest in the nation,” Vance said in the release. “This bill will improve patient safety by preventing people from becoming addicted to prescription drugs and thus reduce deaths. Almost 80 percent of those who recently started using heroin said they previously abused prescription painkillers.”

– John L. Kennedy, for the Law Weekly