The California Senate has given the stamp of approval to a package of bills aimed at reducing prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths, including a measure that would require coroners to report deaths involving prescription drugs to the Medical Board of California. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Senate also signed off on a bill that would upgrade the state’s prescription drug monitoring program, known as CURES. In addition, lawmakers approved a measure that would make it easier for the medical board to investigate physicians suspected of overprescribing and suspend their prescribing privileges, and a bill that would prohibit pharmacies from advertising commonly abused narcotic medications, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, according to the LA Times.
The package of legislation will now move on to the California Assembly for approval.
The CURES bill faced the strongest opposition from the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, the Times says, even though it had the support of a coalition of law enforcement groups, health insurance companies, and business, labor and consumer organizations. That opposition was dropped after the bill’s sponsors removed a provision that called for a tax on drug makers to pay for teams of investigators to crack down on drug-seeking patients and doctors who recklessly prescribe to them, according to the Times.
The Times recently issued a report finding that the California Medical Board has repeatedly failed to protect patients from reckless prescribing by doctors: it rarely tries to suspend the prescribing privileges of doctors under investigation, and even when it imposes sanctions, in most cases it allows doctors to continue practicing and prescribing. The Times’ examination of board records and county coroners’ files from 2005 through 2011 found that eight doctors disciplined for excessive prescribing later had patients die of overdoses or related causes; prescriptions those doctors wrote caused or contributed to 19 deaths.