FRANKFORT — State lawmakers are trying to reach a compromise during the final days of this year's legislative session on a measure aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse.
The abuse has reached epidemic proportions in some areas of the state, particularly in Eastern Kentucky, killing about 80 people a month in the commonwealth.
On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-2 to approve a new version of House Bill 4 to regulate pain clinics and sent it to the Senate, which might vote Wednesday.
The Senate panel made several tweaks to the bill, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.
Senate Judiciary chairman Tom Jensen, R-London, said the bill "still has a long way to go" in the legislative process. There are four work days left in the legislative session.
If the House does not agree with the Senate's changes, they could form a conference committee with representatives from both chambers to try to iron out differences.
The latest proposal continues to call for transferring oversight of the state's prescription monitoring system from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to the attorney general's office. But it limits to 20 the number of employees in the attorney general's office who may access the monitoring system.
It also requires, starting July 13, 2013, that pharmacists report within 24 hours when they fill a pain pill prescription. The proposal also would let the Kentucky Medical Licensure Board come up with regulations that describe how doctors must use the electronic monitoring system.
The bill does not charge health care providers for using the system.
An employee of a doctor or pharmacist would be able to access the monitoring system, freeing about five to 10 minutes of the health provider's time per entry. A doctor could see a copy of his or her reporting records to check for accuracy or fraud. Patients also would be able to see their records.
HB 4, as changed by the Senate, allows only physicians to own pain management clinics, and the physician-owner must have legitimate pain management training and actually practice at the clinic at least 50 percent of the time patients are there.
Clinic patients must present identification, and the clinic must accept insurance.
"Pill-seeking friends" could not pay for a patient's office visit, according to the bill.
Also, coroners would have to increase drug-overdose reporting, and the state Office of Drug Control Policy must submit an annual drug death report.
Jensen noted that the measure also allows for interstate cooperation in battling prescription drug abuse.
Gov. Steve Beshear announced Tuesday that Kentucky would sign an agreement to share and receive prescription drug dispensing data with at least 20 other states.
He said in a news release that the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting program, known as KASPER, has joined the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy's Prescription Monitoring Program InterConnect.
This will facilitate the transfer of information to authorized users in other states, he said.
"The blight of prescription drug abuse is tearing our families and communities apart, and we must use every tool available to attack this deadly scourge on our state," Beshear said. "One of our key strategies is sharing information with surrounding states so that we can not only cut off access to abusers but also identify the problem prescribers."
Bill Doll, a lobbyist for the Kentucky Medical Association, told the Senate committee that the doctors' group did not like moving the monitoring system to the attorney general's office.
Stumbo has said the move was necessary to make the monitoring system a more efficient investigative tool to find prescription fraud.