Politics & Government

House approves pain pill bill, but Senate still has concerns

FRANKFORT — The Democratic-led House passed a measure Wednesday that supporters hope will curtail Kentucky's prescription pill addiction, but the bill's future in the Republican-led Senate remains uncertain.

House Bill 1 would allow only doctors to own pain clinics and would move the state's prescription electronic monitoring system from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to Attorney General Jack Conway's office.

The bill also would require all doctors to use the prescription monitoring system, a provision the Senate took out of the bill during the regular legislative session that ended last week.

The House voted 70-28 to approve HB 1 on the third day of a special session, which costs taxpayers $60,000 a day.

Many of the "no" votes were cast by Republicans, who questioned whether the attorney general's office was given too much power over the state's doctors.

Gov. Steve Beshear placed HB 1 on the agenda of the special session after the House and Senate failed to pass a compromise bill on the controversial measure that has pitted some in the medical community against law enforcement.

Senate President David Williams, during an interview on WVLK-AM's "Kruser Weekdays" show in Lexington, said the Senate has concerns about HB 1.

"There are some people, quite frankly, who have concerns about the attorney general's office having access to private medical records of individuals," he said. "They think the medical licensure board, the dentistry board, the nursing board has a history of being able to deal with confidential records ..."

As the House voted on HB 1, members of the law enforcement community and family members of those who have died from prescription drug overdoses held a rally in the Capitol Rotunda to support the bill.

Patricia Jones of Laurel County pleaded with legislators "to do something" to stop the prescription drug abuse that took the life of her son, Westley Brewer, last December.

"There's a void in our life that will never be filled," she said.

In an interview, she said her son got the drugs "from friends who went doctor-shopping to get them."

Bryon W. Smoot, president of the Kentucky Narcotic Officers' Association, said at the rally that 435 Kentuckians were hospitalized in the first three months of this year because of overdoses.

Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, told House members that only 28 percent of doctors use the state's prescription monitoring system, which allows doctors to see if a patient has already been prescribed an addictive medication by another physician. Data shows that 89 percent of doctors who use the system change their prescription practices after viewing the data.

"It works, plain and simple," Tilley said of the system.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, asked how much it would cost to move the monitoring system to the attorney general's office. Tilley said there will be money — possibly $4 million to $5 million — from a settlement of a national lawsuit against mortgage companies to help defray those costs. But Tilley said he does not know how much it will cost to move, upgrade and maintain the system.

"Nobody knows what the cost is going to be to transfer this system," Hoover said. "Nobody knows how much money ... the $50 fee per provider is going to generate."

Conway, at the rally on Wednesday, railed against lobbyists for the medical community who he said watered down the bill during the waning days of the regular legislative session.

Conway also said he plans to oversee the prescription monitoring system "with calm discretion and no witch hunts."

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has said the Kentucky Medical Licensure Board, which has oversight over doctors, has not forwarded a case to the attorney general's office for prosecution in the past eight years.

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