Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series produced by the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith. The entire series will be published online at www.nlrtimes.com. Next: Addict turns life around.
FORT SMITH — The principal sponsor of Arkansas legislation creating the state Prescription Monitoring Program said the measure was crafted to strike a balance between regulating the distribution of medications and ensuring the privacy of those who rely on them.
Former Sen. Percy Malone of Arkadelphia said prior to adoption of the 2011 law establishing a statewide system for reporting prescription information, bills proposing the program had come before the General Assembly without success. He said in deliberating earlier versions of the measure, conflicts arose between law enforcement officials seeking ready access to the drug prescription history the program would provide and those in medical and pharmacological fields concerned the scrutiny would discourage patients with legitimate needs from seeking necessary treatment and medication.
"We didn’t want the cure to be worse than the disease," Malone, himself a pharmacist, said by telephone Thursday. "We wanted to make sure we didn’t do anything to prevent physicians or pharmacists from providing care to those who need it."
While the aim of the program was to prevent abuse of prescription medicines, Malone said efforts were needed to see that those who had legitimate medications from different providers — and their pharmacists — were not stigmatized.
"If someone legitimately has pain, they should be able to go to their doctor and pharmacist who can prescribe for them without someone looking over their shoulder," he said. "With a statewide monitoring system in place, every prescription written the patient is going to be recognized."
Another important concern was privacy. Care was taken to tightly limit access to the database of prescription information. Some law enforcement officials complained about the need to obtain a warrant, but Malone said lawmakers stood their ground.
"We made it difficult on purpose," he said. "I told them, ‘This is America.’"
Former Rep. Tracy Pennartz of Fort Smith, a co-sponsor of HB 1186, the House version of Act 304, said Thursday although the proposal had been rejected in earlier sessions, it passed in 2011 with the"broad support" of representatives of state medical and pharmacy associations.
"It took several years of work to get a balance, but in the end it was not difficult, " Malone agreed. "We worked with all the disciplines — emergency rooms, doctors, the medical board, the pharmacy association. All the issues we debated had been resolved in meetings we held over a period of time."
The measure passed by a 35-0 vote in the Senate. House members adopted the companion bill 64-22.
Although no funding was appropriated for the program, Pennartz said that was not unusual, particularly in the case of Health Department programs, where grant money is typically available.
"The biggest part of it was getting it up and in place," she said.
The state program started March 1; it requires every licensed pharmacist in the state to record filling a prescription to all Schedule II, III, IV and V controlled substances, listing the drug, dosage and amount, as well as the personal identification of the person to whom it was issued.