Law Change to Expand Law Enforcement Access to Prescription Drug Monitoring Program

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LITTLE ROCK, AR – A change to the law during the most recent legislative session will expand access of the state prescription drug monitoring program to certified law enforcement without a search warrant in an effort, supporters say, to curb rising problems with prescription drug abuse.

Pharmacist Stacy Riley can have a person’s prescription history at her fingertips if something raises a red flag when they come to her counter at Cornerstone Pharmacy.

“If see they’re bringing in another prescription in two weeks but they have a 30 day supply, I’m going to call that doctor’s office,” she said.

The Arkansas Prescription Drug Monitoring program has been available to pharmacists and physicians since 2011, not only to help make sure patients aren’t receive drugs that will negatively interact, but also help track doctor shoppers and over-prescribers.

“It’s definitely a real thing, and it is a sad thing,” Riley said.

But up until this year, law enforcement access had been restricted unless officers could obtain a search warrant for the records.

“A lot of times having that access can start or stop the investigation,” said Benton Police Chief Kirk Lane. “The search warrant can be a big barrier to that. The time and paperwork it takes to obtain puts you out of the game on catching these individuals.”

According to Lane, those involved in the prescription drug trade often span jurisdictions and work quickly, often with deadly effects. According to him, the biggest obstacle his department has seen is the search warrants and being able to catch dealers.

An amendment to the law, supported by the State Board of Pharmacy is changing that.

“Law enforcement, prescribers and pharmacists really have to work together on this problem,” said the board’s executive director John Clay Kirtley.

The program only logs controlled substances, like narcotics and high schedule drugs. It includes information on when the prescription was filled, which doctor prescribed it and for what quantity. It also includes information on addresses to indicate if a person is moving several times a year.

“So, I can look and see if someone is getting the same drug from different doctors, or going to different pharmacies,” Riley said. “We can also see if they’re moving from place to place and filling this prescriptions.”

According to Kirtley and Lane, the program isn’t aimed at curbing or targeting those who have a legitimate need for the medications. And the access won’t be used to go on “fishing expeditions”.

“We are targeting those who are trafficking drugs harming our children and the public,” Kirtley said. “We’ve seen that the trend of prescription abuse in this state has had horrific effects.”

“Every inquiry into the system will be tracked,” Lane said. “And every inquiry has to have an associated case number to track it to a legitimate investigation.”

Safeguards like that tracking capability and annual audits are coupled with training requirements to help the police but also protect privacy, Lane said.

To gain access, Act 901 requires that the chief operating officer of an agency, like a police chief or sheriff, undergo certified training that is currently being developed. From there, officers who will be considered the agencies certified drug investigators will also be required to be trained and submit a form to gain access to the system and be issued a password that is tracked to that individual.

Each chief officer acknowledges they bear the brunt of the responsibility for the activities under their watch. Misusing the system can be grounds not only for termination, Lane said, but it is also a felony under the law.

“Not just any officer who can shoot a gun on the side of the road will be using this system,” Lane said. “These will be specialized officers trained to do this work in their departments.”

The training materials are in development and the software integration for law enforcement is already under way. Lane hopes to see the program for law enforcement stood up by January of next year.

Stacey Riley thinks the program can help curb the problem she sees at the counter every day.

“They can access that info and put stop to problem before it gets worse,” Riley said.

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