State Lawmakers Work To Stem Abuse Of Prescription Painkillers

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - When a pharmacist fills out a prescription for painkillers, they are simply doing their job. But from 1998 to 2008, the percentage of people admitting to abusing those drugs increased four-fold.

Changes have come for pharmacies over the years to decrease the abuse as best they can.

Each week Alabama pharmacists have to report controlled substance usage to the state.

"The database is compiled and accessible by health care professionals to look at," said Darden Heritage, a Huntsville pharmacist.

Sometimes, Heritage says, they do notice suspicious behavior, such as a patient frequently filling out prescriptions for the same painkillers at different pharmacies.

"Physicians seem to be receptive to our calls to say 'Hey, this patient is getting this drug and was getting it yesterday from another physician," said Heritage. "They seem to appreciate that. We look out for each other."

However, pharmacists like Heritage have long wanted lawmakers to do more. As of now law enforcement officials can see the database, but not use the information they find as evidence.

Now, three bills are on Governor Bentley's desk to help stem prescription drug abuse. One would enhance the tracking of prescriptions for painkillers. Another wallows law enforcement to prosecute patients who visit several doctors to get prescriptions for the same drugs (also known as 'Doctor shopping'). The third would give new authority to the State board of Medical Examiners.

Clete Wetli, Chairman of the Madison County Democratic Party, is also an addictions counselor. He says the move by state lawmakers is a good first step, but in his opinion, more must be done.

"Addiction is where you honestly can't stop in the face of all the consequences you know are there," said Wetli.

Wetli believes prosecution is only half the battle, and calls for treatment over incarceration.

"What we really need to do is find a good way to deal with the whole problem," said Wetli. "That includes putting money into prevention and putting money into treatment, and of course maintaining the law enforcement priorities we have now."

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