Second chance for Senate to fight pill abuse

It's unfortunate, and unfortunately expensive, that we've wound up once again with a special legislative session to finish business left hanging after the 60-day regular session that ended last week.

So, it's doubly important that the General Assembly do something worthwhile, like take this second chance to pass House Bill 1, which will help fight the epidemic of prescription pain pill abuse in Kentucky.

The House of Representatives has already taken action by passing the bill, a strong measure that enhances reporting and tracking of pain-pill prescriptions and makes it harder to operate pill mills that have been handing out the deadly drugs like candy, for a price.

The Senate, which listened to the Kentucky Medical Association and torpedoed a similar measure in the regular session, must take advantage of this second chance or take responsibility for the lives lost or ruined if it doesn't become law.

And that's a big responsibility. About 1,000 deaths each year in Kentucky — more than are caused by car wrecks — are chalked up to prescription drug abuse, and that's probably a very low count.

It has destroyed families, overburdened local and state law enforcement systems and packed our jails and prisons.

In 1999, when the Kentucky All-Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system, known as KASPER, was created there was great hope it would go a long way toward solving this problem. But its value has been limited by a number of shortcomings. Some have been the result of inadequate funding that hampered technological upgrades; some with the administration and some a result of limited use by medical professionals.

Some of the key provisions aimed at plugging these holes in KASPER:

 Move it to the Attorney General's office, a law enforcement agency, from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

 Require all physicians who prescribe pain medicines to register with KASPER. Only about a third do now.

 Assess a fee of up to $50 annually per physician to fund ongoing maintenance of the system.

In an effort to limit pill mills, the measure outlines that pain clinics:

 Must be owned by a physician licensed in Kentucky who spends at least half of his or her time at the clinic.

 Must accept credit cards not just cash as payment.

 Could not sell or otherwise dispense more than 48 hours worth of pain medication to patients.

This bill is supported by law-enforcement professionals, prosecutors, local officials and the governor, as well as Attorney General Jack Conway. The KMA, well-funded and powerful, supports the pill mill provisions but has led the opposition to those that would improve KASPER.

We can understand why physicians are concerned about a law-enforcement agency looking over their shoulders as they write prescriptions.

However, that doesn't trump the need to stem the toll of death and societal destruction wrought by prescription pill abuse.

This is a major public health crisis in Kentucky. Many people become addicted to pain pills because they don't have access to or can't afford treatment for painful health problems.

In addition, there are physicians and pharmacists in Kentucky who make money by prescribing and distributing pills that they know will only feed addictions.

We call on the Senate to do the right thing and pass this bill as it is written. And we call on the KMA to redirect its efforts to extend access to medical care and rid the medical profession of unscrupulous practitioners. It will take both to stop prescription pill abuse in Kentucky.