The “Addison Sharp Prescription Regulatory Act of 2013,” named after a Knoxville Catholic High School graduate who died of a prescription drug overdose, won final approval in the House and Senate in the windup of the legislative session.
Theh bill (SB676) makes multiple changes to state laws dealing with prescription drugs, including a mandate that no more than a 30-day supply of some frequently-abused drugs can be issued by a pharmacist at one time. It also requires the state health commissioner to develop a “standard of care” for dealing with commonly abused medications and requires all medical professions to have two hours of training every two ears on tho standards, once issued.
Jessica Akhrass, Addison Sharp’s sister, and Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch were among those actively pushing for passage at the Legislature. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, and Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, who described it as a good step forward toward curbing the growing abuse of prescription drugs.
Legislation requiring a prescription to buy some cold medications has been stalled in a House subcommittee as lawmakers seek a middle ground between law enforcement officers pushing the proposal as a means to combat methamphetamine production and pharmacists opposing it as an unnecessary inconvenience to consumers.
The bill (HB368) would apply to Sudafed, Advil Cold and other products containing pseudoephedrine, which is used in illegal production of methamphetamine. Sponsor Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, told the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee last week the measure is needed because previous legislative efforts — including harsher penalties for meth producers and a record-keeping system for sales of the medications — have not worked to control meth.
“The cost to society is millions and millions of dollars,” he said. “Families are being destroyed. People are dying because of this.”
Oregon and Mississippi have mandated that “meth precursors” be sold by prescription only, Hawk said, and meth production in those states has declined “dramatically.”
But with Hawk’s assent, the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, announced the bill is being “taken off notice” and will be held without action while alternatives are explored. Shipley said he and other legislators met with Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officials, who support the measure, and “we were not persuaded this is the approach we need to take.”
Two congressmen have called for a federal investigation of the electronic database used by Tennessee and 23 other states to track drugstore sales of methamphetamine’s main ingredient, reports the News Sentinel. U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, wrote to the U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday asking for an inquiry into whether the system skirts agreements with state governments, stonewalls police and violates federal law by mining the sales numbers for marketing data.
“We have new concerns about the legality, integrity and effectiveness of this tracking system and believe it may warrant greater federal scrutiny at this time,” the letter reads. The system “may not only be violating (federal law), but may also be impeding law enforcement’s anti-diversion efforts, intentionally or otherwise.”
The company that operates the database says it’s done nothing wrong.
Pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in some popular cold and sinus medicines, also serves as the foundation for most recipes for meth, an addictive stimulant that mimics adrenaline. Meth cooks use household chemicals such as lantern fuel and drain cleaner to break down pseudoephedrine, producing toxic waste and sometimes fires and explosions in the process.
On the heels of a sex scandal involving a female patient, another woman has acknowledged having a sexual relationship with physician and U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais while she was under his medical care. She did so in an interview with the Chattanooga Times-Free Press.
The second woman described DesJarlais as “the nicest guy” and said he cooked dinner for her at their first get-together in 2000.
But she also said they smoked marijuana during their relationship and remembered DesJarlais prescribing her pain medication on dates at his home.
“His biggest thing that’s completely unethical is him just picking up women while he’s a doctor,” the woman said in an interview last week. “I mean, seriously, that’s his big no-no. … He’s just a hound.”
The woman said the affair lasted six months and included mutual illicit drug use.
“Scott was just a regular guy,” she said. “He smoked. I mean, he smoked pot. He [did] all that stuff.”
The woman’s remarks about marijuana use could not be independently verified.
DesJarlais is a Republican seeking re-election in the 4th District. In a prepared statement Saturday, his campaign did not dispute any specific allegations by the woman, instead condemning “personal smear campaigns that hurt families” and “have no place in politics.”
“This is not a credible story, and it seems that the Chattanooga Times Free Press has no interest in informing their readers about real issues facing Tennesseans but would rather focus solely on a 14-year-old divorce,” campaign manager Brandon Lewis said.
The woman lives in a 4th District county close to the Chattanooga area. The Times Free Press granted her anonymity but checked her driver’s license and verified her identity in DesJarlais’ divorce papers — her name is included in his ex-wife’s extensive list of “potential witnesses.” Court records and a family friend confirm that the woman and DesJarlais had an affair.
…Now in her 40s, the woman said she met DesJarlais as a patient in the mid-1990s and began dating him about five years later in the midst of his divorce.
She said DesJarlais’ early attempts at romance were “bizarre.” She recalled feeling strange about a general practitioner who encouraged her to call him at home. Eventually he phoned her and invited her over.
“He was the nicest guy — made dinner, supernice, tried to razzle-dazzle you with his conversation,” she said. “I don’t know exactly how it started, but I mean, when it did, he just kept on and kept on.”
Some dates occurred at the physician’s home, and other times they went out, the woman said. She remembered going by DesJarlais’ medical office to talk but recalled no romantic encounters there.
The woman said she kept DesJarlais as her doctor for some time after the affair. But after he kept trying to rekindle their relationship in settings outside his office, she said she eventually sought a different doctor.
—Note: Brandon Lewis, DesJarlais campaign manager, sent an email Sunday giving this response to the Chattanooga TFP story:
“The woman mentioned in this article has reached out to both the congressman’s wife and the paper to express concerns about her statements being taken out of context and factual inaccuracies contained in this article.
“It is clear that the Chattanooga Times Free Press has no interest in informing their readers about the real issues facing Tennesseans. Rather than focusing solely on a 14 year old divorce, why don’t they talk to the congressman’s wife, Amy, who he has been married to for more than 10 years?
“It speaks volumes that even Lincoln Davis recently said that he regretted his actions and that these types of personal smear campaigns that hurt families have no place in politics.”
News release from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
As a result of the Affordable Care Act – the health care law enacted in 2010 – seniors and people with disabilities in Tennessee have saved $91.2 million on prescription drugs since the law was enacted, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced today.
Seniors in Tennessee saved an average of $550 in the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap known as the “donut hole” in 2012. Nationwide, nearly 5.4 million seniors and people with disabilities have saved over $4.1 billion on prescription drugs.
In addition, during the first seven months of 2012, the new health care law has helped 611,511 people with original Medicare in Tennessee get at least one preventive service at no cost to them.
“The health care law has saved people with Medicare over $4.1 billion on prescription drugs, and given millions access to cancer screenings, mammograms and other preventive services for free,” said Secretary Sebelius. “Medicare is stronger thanks to the health care law, saving people money and offering new benefits at no cost to seniors.”
By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In spite of efforts to crack down on the state’s prescription drug abuse epidemic, a new report shows nearly 18 million prescriptions for controlled substances such as OxyContin and hydrocodone were dispensed in Tennessee last year — a 23 percent increase from the previous year.
The surging figures in the report to the General Assembly are a setback for those fighting to get a grip on the prescription drug.
“We’re in jeopardy of losing an entire generation of our youth to addiction if we don’t get a grip on this,” said Tommy Farmer, an assistant special agent in charge of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. “I mean that sincerely.”
Tennessee has some of the highest rates of prescription drug abuse in the nation. An Associated Press analysis found that per capita, oxycodone sales increased five- or six-fold in most of the state from 2000 to 2010.
“When you look at my units, we do detoxification of nice middle-class people who have been prescribed opiates and have slowly increased their dose and then they can’t get off,” Martin said.
The sisters of Joyce Hall, who died after a bout with pain pill addiction ended her career as a nurse, were on hand Friday when Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law a bill aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse at the Anderson County Courthouse, reports Matt Lakin. Nall and Judy Bensey, shook the governor’s hand Friday when he signed a bill aimed at tightening restrictions on doctor-shopping and other forms of prescription-drug abuse in Tennessee.
“In prescriptions per capita in Tennessee, we’re the second leading state in the nation,” Haslam said. “Obviously some of those are for valid reasons, but too many of them aren’t. With this legislation, we intend to change that. This is one step, but to think it will solve the problem would be naive.”
The new law expands the required use of the state’s prescription-drug database — once intended only as a research tool — and elevates some types of doctor-shopping to a felony. Police and the families of drug abusers called the legislation a decent first step.
Legislation requiring doctors to check a state drug database before writing painkiller prescriptions was embraced by Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday for inclusion in a new “public safety action plan.”
The plan further supports separate legislation to establish stronger penalties for “doctor shopping” to obtain prescriptions.
It also calls for new rules for reporting prescriptions to the database, known as the Prescription Monitoring Program, or PMP, and expanded access to the database for law-enforcement officers and various state government agencies. Efforts will be made to exchange prescription information with other states under the plan..
But the administration will not push proposed legislation requiring persons picking up a painkiller prescription to show a photo ID, the governor and administration officials said at a news conference to promote proposals aimed at combating crime, domestic violence and drug abuse with a package of “action steps” including both legislation and administrative actions.
The state’s district attorneys are pushing for passage in 2012 of legislation that would require health care providers and pharmacists to check the state’s prescription drug database as a means of curbing abuse of painkiller drugs, reports the News Sentinel. A lobbyist for the state’s physician thinks that’s going too far. “What we’ve got to do is make it harder to get these pills on the streets,” said John Gill, special counsel to the Knox County district attorney general. “The database is not nearly as effective as it can be.”
Doctors, privacy advocates and others say the proposals go too far.
“We may well have some reservations,” said Gary Zelizer, director of legislative affairs for the Tennessee Medical Association. “My personal opinion is that it’s overkill.”
The database, created five years ago and funded by state fees for health care providers, tracks prescriptions statewide for narcotics such as oxycodone and hydrocodone — the same drugs that police say now top crack cocaine and methamphetamine among abusers. State law requires doctors and others to log each prescription they write and pharmacists to log each prescription filled.
The law doesn’t require them to check those logs before writing or filling the prescription. The database recorded more than 13.7 million prescriptions last year, according to the most recently available statistics — and only 1.2 million checks for patient profiles.
Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, has legislation pending on the subject. Yager says he expects there will be other bills filed to deal with the issue. A spokeswoman for Gov. Bill Haslam says the administration is considering “possible legislation” and will have more to say later. See also the Shelbyville Times-Gazette story on the DAs efforts.
Tennessee created a statewide task force on prescription-drug abuse four years ago and never set aside a penny to fund it, reports the News Sentinel as part of a story package on pill abuse. The state Drug Diversion Task Force subsists on volunteer efforts in its battle against Tennessee’s most widespread drug problem.
“Everybody thinks we get money,” said Elizabeth Sherrod, the task force coordinator. “We get nothing. Speakers at our meetings travel at their own expense.”
Sherrod works by day as a senior special agent for TVA’s Office of the Inspector General, investigating waste and fraud. She spends her spare time as nominal head of the task force working to promote awareness of prescription-drug abuse and its dangers.
The task force, created in 2007 by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, has no full-time staff and no budget. No state, federal or private grants cover its expenses.
No agents wearing Drug Diversion Task Force badges batter down doors or haul pill pushers away in handcuffs, although its members include law-enforcement agents. Members meet on a quarterly schedule.
“We think of it more as an alliance,” she said. “We bring together law enforcement, health care and other professions. It’s just about the passion of everybody in these communities to come together and fix this problem.”
The task force operates a Web site, www.tndrugdiversion.org, and a tip line, 877-FOR-RXTN. A prevention campaign produced posters but no major radio, television or newspaper ads.
Sherrod said she’s worked for the past few years to organize annual training conferences for police and health-care workers. Those events rely on donated space and can’t offer reimbursement for travel or expenses.
“We offer training to investigators free of charge,” she said. “Eventually we’ll be at the Tennessee Law Enforcement Academy (in Nashville), covering topics like prescription fraud, addiction, hospital diversion, the drugs that are abused and the way they’re abused.” Note: A summary of the other News Sentinel stories on prescription drug abuse is HERE.