DRUG CZAR SEEKS TO EXPAND REGISTRIES
Hopes to Target Prescription-Drug Abuse
WASHINGTON -- The White House today will announce a national anti-drug strategy that includes prodding more states to set up databases that can track people who get multiple prescriptions of frequently abused prescription drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin.
The strategy, to be announced in Denver today by White House drug czar John Walters, does not include any new programs, a reflection of how the tight federal budget is limiting anti-drug initiatives.
Twenty-eight states have passed laws to set up prescription-drug registries, which are funded with a mix of federal and state money.
President Bush's proposed budget for fiscal 2007 includes $9.9 million to help establish registries in more states, up from $7.4 million this year.
The impact of the existing registries is unclear; the first data measuring their effectiveness will not be available until next year.
Walters, whose office provided a copy of the strategy to USA TODAY, is focusing on 20 states that do not have prescription-drug registries and whose legislatures meet this year, plus Washington, D.C. Among the states likely to consider new registries are Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Vermont and Washington, says John Horton, an aide to Walters.
The registries have faced opposition from critics who have expressed concern about patients' privacy and the potential for interference in medical care.
"We're sympathetic to registries if they are used for public-health purposes, but we're really concerned that they'll be used as a law enforcement tool," says Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance, a non-profit based in New York City that pushes for drug abuse to be treated as a health problem rather than as a criminal one. "We don't want doctors afraid to prescribe pain medication."
Drug abusers often collect prescriptions for narcotics by visiting several doctors, Horton says. Doctors in states without registries have no way to check whether a patient is "doctor shopping" to get several prescriptions, he says.
States with such programs require doctors and pharmacists to log prescriptions into computer registries that the medical professionals can monitor. Many states give police access to the registries.
The nation's most extensive study of drug use among youths indicated recently that illicit drug use is down or holding steady. However, the 2005 Monitoring the Future study by the University of Michigan found that abuse of sedatives, OxyContin and inhalants is rising. It said 5.5% of high school seniors reported using OxyContin during the previous year. That represented a jump of nearly 40% since 2002.