Medicines

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AUSTIN — State lawmakers looking for ways to combat prescription drug abuse are poised to propose that doctors be encouraged to use online databases identifying patients who "doctor shop" for medications, according to a published report Thursday.

The Austin American Statesman says (http://bit.ly/1rFJCWr ) some legislators have supported mandating that physicians use monitoring databases, but that bills simply urging them to do so are more likely when the Legislature reconvenes Jan. 13.

The databases are designed to flag patients who visit multiple doctors in hopes of stockpiling prescription drugs.

Texas House and Senate committees that examined ways to limit prescription drug abuse agree that Texas should interactively share its drug monitoring database with other states.

Discussion ahead of the upcoming session didn't focus on punishing doctors who violate prescription regulations. That may change, however, in the wake of a previous Statesman story that found that such prosecutions are unusual and are often not even considered by authorities.

The newspaper reported in another story published Sunday that fewer than a third of the doctors punished by the Texas Medical Board over a three-year period for prescribing violations involving two or more patients were prosecuted.

Rep. Elliott Naishtat, vice chairman of the House Public Health Committee, said he could "guarantee" there would be discussion on the topic.

"An atmosphere has been created in Texas and other states, an atmosphere of reluctance to, in a broad way, subject doctors and lawyers to criminal prosecutions," said Naishtat, an Austin Democrat.

But Texas Medical Association President Austin King said that overreach by the medical board — not lax punishment — may be to blame for so few prosecutions.

"I think the medical board is aggressively pursuing a lot of these doctors," said King, a head and neck tumor surgeon in Abilene.

King also said he opposes requiring doctors to use the database: "Physicians are just overwhelmed by red tape right now."

The scope of the House Public Health Committee's work is set by House Speaker Joe Straus. Jason Embry, a Straus spokesman, said the committee's report will likely be released next week.

Naishtat said that a draft recommends many other strategies to curbing prescription drug abuse, including improving the database, called Prescription Access in Texas. It further recommends providing incentives to doctors to use the system and allowing prescribers to enroll when they get or renew a license.

Naishtat said other proposals include educating pregnant women in the Texas Medicaid program on the dangers to the fetus of taking opioid painkillers. Lawmakers may also push for expanded use of naloxone, which reverses an opioid drug overdose, and increasing addiction treatment options.

The Senate's Health and Human Services Committee has already released a report expressing concerns about pregnant women taking opioids.

The upper chamber committee also recommends moving the drug database from the Department of Public Safety to the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, an idea also supported by members of the House committee.

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com

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