State News
Governor Signs Prescription Pill Bills
By Amanda Macke
Oct 4, 2013 - 3:39:51 PM

SACRAMENTO—Governor Jerry Brown signed two of three bipartisan bills designed to curb prescription pill abuse in California on Friday, September 27.


The bills are intended to improve the regulation of painkiller, anti-anxiety and narcotic pill prescriptions for the purpose of reducing the problematic abuse of prescription drugs in California.


Prescription Drugs

The fatality of prescription drug abuse was largely unknown until the Los Angeles Times published an investigative report called “Dying For Relief.” The series analyzed over 3,000 coroners’ reports to create the first ever database to link deaths by prescription pill overdose to the doctors who prescribed the drugs. The results of the Times’ report was the inspiration of SB 62, according to the bill's Senate floor analysis on September 10. The study found more than 80 doctors had three or more patients that died of overdose on medications they were prescribing, and that “one doctor was linked to as many as 16 dead patients,” the SB 62 Senate analysis states.


Elected members garnered bipartisan support in both the California Assembly and Senate to pass bills SB 809, SB 670 and SB 62 to address this pressing health issue. Governor Brown signed SB 809 and SB 670, but elected to veto SB 62. Information on the content, history and voting record of the bills can be found on the official state of California governor’s website.


Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) and Attorney General Kamala D. Harris sponsored SB 809, a bill that implements a shared funding strategy to modernize and expand the Department of Justice’s Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) and it’s sub-part, the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP).

California DOJ Logo


According to the State of California Department of Justice’s website, the CURES/PDMP online system, “allows pre-registered users including licensed healthcare prescribers eligible to prescribe controlled substances, pharmacists authorized to dispense controlled substances, law enforcement, and regulatory boards to access timely patient controlled substance history information,” in an effort to “identify and deter drug abuse and diversion through accurate and rapid tracking of Schedule II through IV controlled substances.”


The program can only be useful, if “all prescribers and dispensers enroll and consult the CURES PDMP,” the government site adds. Currently, “less than 9 percent of those licensed to prescribe or dispense narcotics are registered users,” said Senator DeSaulnier on his website.


SB 809 now requires all prescribers and pharmacists to be enrolled in CURES/PDMP by January 1, 2016. The bill imposes a $6 licensing increase fee on practitioners and pharmacists and allows the Department of Justice to seek grant funding from health insurance plans, workers compensation insurers, and pharmaceutical manufacturers. The funding will go to upgrading and maintaining the CURES/PDMP platform system in order to accommodate the database expansion.


The other bill Governor Brown signed into law was SB 670, sponsored by Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). SB 670 gives the Medical Board better access to information to investigate the extent to which suspicious deaths were the result of the physician or surgeon violating the Medical Practice Act by expanding the definition of unprofessional conduct to include “the repeated failure by a licensee who is the subject of a board investigation, in the absence of good cause, to attend and participate in an interview by the board,” the bill states. According to SB 670, the Medical Board can then “inspect and copy the medical records of the deceased patient without the authorization of the beneficiary or personal representative of the deceased patient or a court order” after “reasonable efforts” to locate or contact the deceased patient’s beneficiary or personal representative are unsuccessful.

Prescription Drug Abuse is a National Epidemic


The bill that was not signed by the governor was SB 62 by Senator Ted W. Lieu (D-Torrance), which would require a county coroner to file a report to the Medical Board whenever a Schedule II, III or IV drug was found to be the cause of death. Governor Brown wrote a letter posted on the California Office of Governor website explaining that SB 62 was vetoed because it “creates an unfunded mandate for the state, potentially in the millions of dollars.”


Governor Brown concluded, “I expect that these measures [SB 809, 670], along with more vigorous efforts by the Board, will help detect and prevent prescription drug abuse without further burdening taxpayers.”


The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls prescription drug abuse a national epidemic and is, “the fastest growing drug problem in the United States,” according to their website. Research by the CDC found drug overdose rates have more than tripled since 1990 at the same time sales of prescription painkillers have increased by 300 percent since 1999. “These drugs were involved in 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008, more than cocaine and heroin combined,” stated a report by the CDC.


The CDC encourages states to enact policies and law to help curb prescription drug abuse and deaths, including improving health care provider accountability and enacting prescription drug monitoring programs, both of which these two bills will enforce.

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