Top Democrats announce plans to battle prescription drug abuse

State officials plan to crack down on 'drug-dealing' docs

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comOctober 7, 2011 

Gov. Steve Beshear gave a speech during the Coal and Rail Centennial Event in front of the courthouse in Harlan, Ky., on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011. Over 300 people attended the event featuring a speech by Gov. Steve Beshear and a keynote address by Dr. James Greene III. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

PABLO ALCALA | STAFF

Three of Kentucky's top officials unveiled a trio of initiatives Thursday to crack down on doctors who overprescribe pain medications.

Gov. Steve Beshear, Attorney General Jack Conway and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, Democrats who have each served as attorney general, said the initiatives would help medical licensure boards detect suspicious prescribing habits of health care providers.

"It's not the drug dealers that are killing our kids, it's the drug-dealing doctors," Stumbo said Thursday.

Beshear said he would appoint an advisory group of doctors, dentists, nurses and pharmacists to develop guidelines and criteria to help the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure use data from the state's prescription monitoring system to flag suspicious prescribing activity.

Speaking during a news conference at Lexington police headquarters, Beshear said he and Conway would host three summits this year to educate more health care providers about using the prescription monitoring system. And Stumbo said he would push legislation during the 2012 General Assembly, which begins in January, to expand use of the monitoring program and to regulate pain clinics.

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for some age groups in Kentucky, where 16.1 percent of adults ages 18 to 25 have used prescription drugs for non-prescribed purposes, according to federal drug-abuse statistics.

Data show that 6.5 percent of all Kentuckians have abused prescription drugs, compared to the national average of 5 percent.

Stumbo has criticized the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure for not doing enough to go after doctors who overprescribe narcotics.

In particular, Stumbo has said the board should be taking data provided by the state's Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system, known as KASPER, which tracks scheduled narcotics, and going after doctors who overprescribe pain medications. The board has countered that the data it gets from KASPER does not provide enough detailed information to determine whether a doctor is overprescribing.

Dr. Preston Nunnelley, president of the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, attended Thursday's news conference. Nunnelley said more detailed information from KASPER would help the board do more investigations.

Nunnelley said the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which administers KASPER, has started to provide more information to the board. Nunnelley said it was too early to say whether the board would need more investigators as a result of the more detailed KASPER reports.

Stumbo said there had been miscommunication between the cabinet and the medical licensure board on who was responsible for requesting the more detailed data. The advisory group and its guidelines will ensure there is no more confusion, he said.

In addition, the federal Appalachian Regional Commission has awarded a $60,000 grant to Operation UNITE, an anti-drug program in 20 southern and Eastern Kentucky counties, to support several educational summits for doctors and dispensers to learn about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and how to use KASPER.

Beshear and Conway, who face re-election Nov. 8, will coordinate the summits, which will be in three locations across the state9. Operation UNITE expects the summits will train about 1,000 health care providers.

One of the key problems with KASPER is that less than 25 percent of physicians use it. Stumbo said there probably would be legislation in the coming session to require use of KASPER by those who prescribe controlled substances.

He said another push was likely to license and regulate pain clinics. Previous attempts have failed in the legislature.

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