Higdon: Expect changes to pill mill legislation

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By Randy Patrick, Landmark News Service

 A comprehensive measure the Kentucky General Assembly enacted last year to curb prescription drug abuse is in need of changes, says one of the lawmakers who helped shape it.

In an interview with The Kentucky Standard last week, Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, who helped lead efforts to revise House Bill 1 and get it passed in the Senate, said it has been effective, but has had unexpected results.

“I think it’s a good bill. It was well intended, but there’s a lot of unintended consequences in there, and there’s also a lot of misunderstanding with what the interpretation of the House bill is,” Higdon said.

Often referred to as the “pill mill bill,” HB 1 was meant to crack down on unscrupulous pain management clinics, called “pill mills,” which were prescribing powerful drugs such as oxycodone to addicts. The law requires the clinics be owned by licensed medical practitioners, and requires the boards of medical licensure to investigate complaints.

It also expands the use of the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting program, or KASPER, and requires physicians to register with the system and use it to make sure patients aren’t obtaining prescriptions from several doctors. Pharmacists must run a KASPER background check before dispensing drugs.

However, the bill also gave the medical licensure boards the authority to promulgate regulations, and that’s where most of the problems lie, Higdon explained.

The law was supposed to apply only to Schedule II narcotics (addictive drugs that are legal, but only with a prescription), and the regulators expanded its scope to also include medications such as attention deficit disorder drugs and drugs for “emotional problems,” Higdon said.

“A lot of these pills are maintenance prescriptions,” he said.

It’s a problem for patients to have to undergo KASPER checks and expensive urine tests to make sure they aren’t selling the drugs.

Those drugs need to be removed from the bill, the senator said, while others, such as methadone, should be added.

Another change that may be made, Higdon said, is to exempt juveniles younger than a certain age, probably 16, from having to undergo KASPER checks.

Higdon said he has received several suggestions from doctors about other ways the law should be changed.

“The bill will not change drastically,” he said, but it needs to be “tweaked” so as not to “inconvenience law-abiding citizens.”

According to a study by the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center, overdose deaths from prescription drugs in the state rose 296 percent from 2000 to 2010 — from 6 to 22.9 per 100,000.