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State cracking down on pain pill abuse

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By Jimmy Higdon

Kentucky is facing a prescription drug abuse epidemic. You've likely already heard the statistics. Approximately one thousand Kentuckians die each year - that's about three a day - from pain pill overdose. Some reports estimate that one in three Kentuckians has a friend or family member who they say is struggling with prescription drug addiction.

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When I went to Frankfort in January addressing the scourge of prescription drug abuse was one of my priorities. But, as is often the case, effective solutions are usually as complex as the problems they're solving. We quickly learned that effective legislation would need to be comprehensive and detailed.

Few dispute that narcotic abuse is being fueled by shady pain-management 'clinics,' or so-called 'pill mills,' popping up across the state. These pill mills are fundamentally illegitimate operations. They're often owned by people without a medical degree who don't even live in Kentucky. They inappropriately prescribe a seemingly-unlimited supply of powerful pain killers to virtually anyone willing to pay.

While we were all eager to crack down on these facilities, we didn't want to prevent responsible pain management clinics and doctors from prescribing needed medication to patients with legitimate health concerns. The perfect balance was discussed and debated throughout the entire legislative session before agreement was reached on a measure in an additional week-long special session in April.

House Bill 1, passed in the special session, was the result of months of work by the legislature, the governor, the Attorney General, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, medical licensure boards, and physicians and nurses across the state. The legislation, now law, requires doctors and pharmacists to register with and utilize the once-voluntary Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER) system used to monitor the prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances in the Commonwealth.

It also requires pain management clinics be owned and operated by licensed physicians and sets forth mandatory disciplinary guidelines for those who inappropriately prescribe pain medicine.

A six-member oversight committee was appointed to monitor the implementation and effectiveness of the measure. As a member of that committee, I am especially concerned with making sure the regulations in place now achieve our goal of shutting down 'pill mills' without hindering the important pain-management work that upstanding physicians do every day.

So far, we are seeing fast progress. More than 9,000 additional providers have already registered with KASPER. At least four facilities, some of which may have been operating questionably, have announced their closure. We expect to see even more results in the coming months.

For the remainder of 2012, the oversight committee will continue to examine the execution of HB 1, as well as look for ways to make the legislation even stronger and more effective. We will continue working closely with medical professionals and their licensing boards, as well.

I am confident that together we can make a difference and successfully fight the war on prescription drugs in this community and state.