Noting the alarming fact that more Americans die each year from overdoses of narcotic prescription drugs than from heroin and cocaine combined, and that Delaware ranked 5th in the nation in per-capita narcotic prescription drug sales in 2010, Attorney General Beau Biden has announced new legislative proposals, to combat the explosive increase in prescription drug abuse. The legislative package, developed by Biden’s office after consultations with the medical community and legislative leaders, will be introduced soon.
"Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem in Delaware and around the country, and we need to do more to stop it,” Biden said. “These proposals will hold offenders accountable for putting patients at risk and reduce the flow of prescription narcotics into the black market while ensuring continued access by patients who need them for legitimate treatment purposes. While our state has taken much-needed action in recent years to combat the epidemic, addicts and dealers are finding new ways to game the system and steal from patients.”
During remarks at the Wilmington Rotary Club’s Annual Law Day luncheon, Biden reviewed the dramatic increase in the use of opioids - narcotic pain medications such as Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin - and the growing abuse of those drugs as a threat to public health and public safety.
• Prescriptions for opioids dispensed by U.S. retail pharmacies increased by 60 percent between 2000 and 2010
• Over the past 10 years, an average of 6,000 Americans each day began abusing prescription drugs, and in 2011, more than one-third of those new addicts were children.
• The number of deaths nationwide from opioids surpassed 16,600 in 2010 - more than four times as many as in 1999.
The first bill creates a new criminal offense of “Medication Diversion” that applies to anyone who intentionally diverts prescription narcotics from patients who are under the care of a healthcare program in medical or other 24-hour facilities such as hospitals, group homes, or nursing homes. This felony-level charge subjects offenders - whether licensed healthcare workers who provide treatment to patients, patients’ family members or their visitors, or non-healthcare workers employed by programs and facilities that serve patients - to potential jail time.
In addition, a conviction more adequately subjects offenders to being placed on the Adult Abuse Registry and more specifically addresses criminal conduct that subjects an individual to professional licensing discipline as opposed to current law which subjects an offender to a misdemeanor-level conviction for theft.
The proposed bill also requires all medical professionals who are licensed to prescribe controlled substances, as well as licensed pharmacists, to obtain three continuing education (CME) credits annually on risks associated with prescribing, administering, and diversion of controlled substances.
The second bill enhances Delaware’s prescription monitoring efforts to respond to the recognition that increasing numbers of addicts are turning to emergency rooms and urgent care clinics to obtain narcotics as enhanced enforcement has limited previous sources of drugs. Specifically, it:
• Limits all medical facilities except licensed pharmacies from dispending more than a 72-hour supply of a controlled substance to patients
• Requires all “dispensers” to enter any prescription of a controlled substance into the PMP, just as pharmacies are currently required to do, and
• Requires the Department of Health and Social Services to establish a uniform protocol to guide caregivers regarding the proper disposal of controlled substances upon a patient’s death. Hospice care providers would also assist family members and caregivers to inventory and dispose of a patient’s remaining supply of controlled substances upon that patient’s death.
An emergency room nurse, Rep. Rebecca Walker said that the bills would address a growing problem of addicts illegally obtaining pills from people who were legitimately prescribed the medication.
“Diversion is one of the most significant problems we have in health care today,” said Rep. Walker, D-Townsend. “The purposeful taking of another person's medications for one’s own benefit has caused professionals to have action taken against their licenses, left hospitals and other facilities vulnerable and most importantly has left those who needed these medications in pain or suffering. These two bills will tighten up the reins on those individuals who take patients medications, and will send a clear message that this behavior is not only wrong and egregious, but criminal.”
“With these two bills, we are working together to protect patients and attack the problem of prescription drug abuse,” said Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, D-Middletown, chairwoman of the Senate’s Health and Social Services Committee. “First, by making diversion of drugs in hospitals and other health care settings a stand-alone crime, it will discourage people who are withholding badly needed medicines from patients for their own profit. Secondly, we’re hoping to limit doctor shopping and pill mills by limiting the length of time a doctor can directly dispense drugs.”