Pa. ranked 14th in number of drug overdose deaths

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HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania ranked 14th in the rate of drug overdose deaths, according to a national study released Monday that also gave the state a low score on implementing strategies to curb prescription drug abuse.


The Washington-based Trust for America’s Health said Pennsylvania had 15.3 overdose deaths per 100,000 residents in 2010, mostly involving prescription drugs that the group says now kill more people than heroin and cocaine combined. That represents an increase of 89 percent from 1999, when there were 8.1 drug deaths per 100,000 people.


The study comes as Pennsylvania lawmakers are wrangling over bills that would expand a state database to help law enforcement agencies track the illegal use of prescription drugs.


The report also said Pennsylvania was among 28 states and the District of Columbia that have implemented six or fewer of 10 “indicators” of specific drug-abuse prevention strategies that the trust considers promising.


Pennsylvania satisfied four indicators, including a program for monitoring the dispensation of certain controlled substances, a law barring patients from withholding information from doctors about their prior prescriptions and a law requiring doctors to examine patients or have a bona fide patient-physician relationship before prescribing a controlled substance.


Indicators the state lacks include a requirement that doctors use the existing monitoring program, which is administered by the attorney general’s office; a law to expand the use by laymen of “naloxone,” a prescription drug that can help counteract an overdose; and a law requiring or permitted pharmacists to require IDs before dispensing controlled substances.


A spokeswoman for Gov. Tom Corbett said the administration is taking steps that might improve its future score, such as exploring ways to increase training for people who prescribe drugs as part of legislation to expand the state’s prescription monitoring program.


The sponsor of a bill that would broaden the program said Monday he has agreed to drop a proposal that drew criticism from the Pennsylvania Medical Society.


The bill would require those who dispense certain drugs to provide detailed data about the doctor, the patient and the drug prescribed.


Dispensers and practitioners would have secure access to the proposed Pharmaceutical Accountability Monitoring System. State Drug and Alcohol Programs Department officials would have access to the database for investigations and analysis, as would state and federal law-enforcement officials conducting investigations.


Andy Hoover of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which has raised numerous civil-rights concerns about the legislation, said police should have to go to court and obtain a search warrant in order to get access to the database.


“This is personal, private information,” Hoover said.


Rep. Matthew Baker, the bill’s sponsor, had proposed adding a provision to require the transmission of automated alerts to the dispenser, the practitioner and the state attorney general’s office any time that the system detects irregular or potentially illegal usage patterns.


But the medical society objected, arguing it would violate the privacy rights of patients and interfere with doctors, such as oncologists and psychiatrists, who regularly prescribe large quantities of drugs as part of their patients’ treatment.


“I have agreed to withdraw that concept,” said Baker, R-Bradford, adding that he was awaiting word from the medical society about its stance on the latest version of the bill.


Medical society lobbyist Scot Chadwick said he was “optimistic” that an agreement will be reached.


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