Legislation drafted by Attorney General Beau Biden’s office and introduced by two registered nurses was unanimously approved by the state Senate.
House Bill 154, sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Walker, D-Townsend, and Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, D-Middletown, seeks to ensure that medications prescribed to patients are not diverted into the wrong hands. It passed the House unanimously in June 2013. It is part of a two-bill package that Biden, Hall-Long and Walker introduced last spring to increase the state’s efforts to fight prescription drug abuse.
Last year when the bill was unveiled Biden said “Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem in Delaware and around the country, and we need to do more to stop it. This proposal will hold offenders accountable for putting patients at risk and reduce the flow of prescription narcotics into the black market. 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.”
Specifically, HB 154 would create 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.
"As a nurse, I felt this legislation is an important step in combating prescription drug abuse," Walker said. "This will award broader protections to the patients we care for, the family members we love and the communities we serve. There must be accountability and consequence."
Hall-Long, the measure’s chief Senate sponsor said she hopes the bill will put a damper on efforts to divert drugs from medical facilities. “This is important because there is an unfortunate issue with staff who have diverted drugs from patients and sold them,” Hall-Long said. “This is a problem we need to deal with, both for the good of patients and the general safety of the community and I think this legislation helps us reach that goal.”
The other bill in the package, Senate Bill 119, was approved by the General Assembly and signed into law last summer. The measure 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. The bill’s chief provisions limit all medical facilities except licensed pharmacies from dispending more than a 72-hour supply of a controlled substance to patients and requires all dispensers to enter any prescription of a controlled substance into the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program, just as pharmacies are currently required to do.