Physicians, pharmacists and in some states, police, will have access to new or enhanced, state-wide prescription drug databases that will be funded by $8.8 million in new grants from the Justice Department.
The grants will go to 20 agencies in 19 states, including Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, South Dakota, Florida and Utah.
Prescription drug monitoring programs, or PDMPs, were first established by states in the 1930s. The programs currently are in every state and the District of Columbia with the exception of Missouri, which has failed to set up a PDMP based on privacy concerns.
In offering the grants, the department said “evidence suggests that prescription drug monitoring programs improve patient care while preventing abuse and overdose deaths.”
Sales of prescription painkillers quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, rising in tandem with overdose deaths.
“Misuse of prescription drugs is a national problem that requires the cooperative efforts of all medical, health, pharmaceutical, law enforcement agencies and other partners to solve,” said Karol Mason, the assistant attorney general heading the Office of Justice Programs. “These awards provide a foundation of resources for enabling data collection, sharing, and collaboration to help prevent prescription medication misuse and abuse.”
The programs also raise significant legal and privacy concerns.
Utah, one of the few states that requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant prior to accessing its PDMP database, was sued last month by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, which doesn't want to be so encumbered. A similar case is pending on appeal in Oregon.
The American Civil Liberties Union is seeking to intervene in the Utah legal dispute, noting that tens of millions of records of controlled substances are already on file in the state's database. Those records include prescriptions not just for opiates, but also for pharmaceutical treatments for patients with mental health issues, AIDS or hormone therapy as part of a gender transformation procedure.
“These are deeply private and sensitive facts that can be embarrassing or stigmatizing if revealed to other people without consent,” the ACLU said in its motion to intervene.