Program to prevent prescriptions addictions can be accessed by state
LAS VEGAS – A computerized system of monitoring controlled substance purchases in Nevada might help in detecting prescription abuses, but it is less than a hit with a civil libertarian.
The Nevada Prescription Controlled Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force administers a secret database that records every time a controlled substance is prescribed in Nevada. The database was launched in 1997 with a $50,000 donation from the Nevada Board of Medical Examiners and $180,000 from two drug companies.
The information is not available to the public, but every state agency can gain access to the records by request, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in a copyright story Thursday.
The purpose of the database is to detect and help people who are abusing prescription drugs – and to catch doctors who are prescribing too many. Using a set of undisclosed thresholds, the database helps identify people who may be ”doctor-shopping,” or going to several doctors for prescription narcotics without telling one about the others.
Doctor-shopping is a felony under Nevada law, and so is forging prescriptions or calling in a fraudulent prescription to a pharmacy. But the director of the Pharmacy Board says the program is designed to help abusers – not punish them.
”No one wants to see someone put in jail” for abusing prescription drugs, said Pharmacy Board Director Keith McDonald. ”The goal of the program is to get the doctors and pharmacists to recommend good pain management (for their patients) and to get people off drugs.”
McDonald said about 17 other states keep track of controlled-substance prescriptions, but only a handful of them have computerized their systems.
The existence of the database raises questions about what could happen if the records were to fall into the wrong hands.
”As soon as a government agency says, ‘You don’t have to worry about that because we’re good guys and you can trust us,’ then you know you’re in trouble,” said Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. ”Because then it becomes discretionary, and then it becomes unlimited in what they can do.”
McDonald said there have been no complaints about the database, and he added there are good reasons for keeping it quiet.
”It (disclosure) might make people afraid to ask for pain medicine, and it may make doctors fearful of writing pain prescriptions,” McDonald said. ”Then you have some people who just wouldn’t like it, who don’t want you to have any information about them, including their address or Social Security number.”
The Nevada Division of Investigation, is charged with monitoring the program, its investigators charged with patrolling a prescription-drug abuse problem that one describes as ”epidemic – almost to the level of street drugs.”
Jerry Hafen, a supervisor in the Las Vegas field office of the Division of Investigations, said plenty of users end up in the criminal justice system.
”By all means, we take people to jail every day for submitting false or forged prescriptions for controlled substances,” Hafen said. ”It’s become quite a problem.”
There are no firm statistics on how many arrests can be credited to the database, but Hafen said many violators are prosecuted in drug court – in which addicts often are given a chance to seek treatment as an alternative to incarceration.