Senate bill takes aim at ‘pill mills’

“Pill mills’’ increasingly have grabbed the attention of police and politicians across Georgia.

These unscrupulous pain clinics sell prescription narcotics such as oxycodone to patients for nonmedical uses. The sales have led to an increase in prescription drug abuse, the country’s fastest-growing drug problem.

Often, the prescription abuse has led to death. In Cobb County, for example, there were more than 50 such deaths in 2009. Statewide, more than 500 people died from prescription drug overdoses that year, says Sen. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler).

‘’We have an epidemic in the state of Georgia,’’ Carter, a pharmacist, told a state Senate panel Wednesday.

Carter outlined the provisions of Senate Bill 36, which he has sponsored to combat pill mills. It would create an electronic database of controlled drugs that are prescribed and dispensed in Georgia.

Physicians and pharmacists would be able to access prescription information on their patients. If a pattern of suspected abuse is detected – if a patient is seen to have too many prescriptions of a controlled substance —  doctors or pharmacists could report it to their respective regulatory boards, Carter said. Law enforcement officials, if they obtained a subpoena, could use the data to investigate illegal activity.

“It will be a great asset to our law enforcement,’’ Carter told lawmakers. “We have a real problem here. This will help us get it under control.’’

Carter said the bill would protect confidentiality of patient information, and that it would not cost the state money to run the database. He said the Georgia Board of Pharmacy would seek a federal grant of about $450,000 to operate the system.

A similar bill was approved by the Georgia Senate last year, but did not clear the House.

Dr. Marion Lee, a pain management physician, told the panel that the bill has the backing of the medical community. The legislation could save money to stopping drug abusers from ‘’doctor shopping’’ for narcotics, added Dr. Lee, a member of the Georgia Composite Medical Board.

A few Georgia cities, including Marietta, have not waited for the state to act, adopting or crafting ordinances restricting the sale of addictive prescription drugs.

Part of Georgia’s problem with pill mills is that the surrounding Southeastern states have laws against these sales, which drives such transactions to Georgia, Carter said.

Ironically, Florida’s new governor, Rick Scott, has proposed repealing that state’s prescription drug database, approved in 2009. Here’s an article on Scott’s proposal by Health News Florida.