AUGUSTA (AP) – Pharmacists will submit reports on prescriptions they fill for certain drugs under a new law that took effect Thursday and leans heavily toward treatment rather than punishment of drug addicts and abusers.

The law creating the Electronic Prescription Drug Monitoring Program was sponsored by a nurse practitioner who was prompted to act by what was happening in the eastern part of the state, which has been plagued by a drug abuse outbreak that has spread to other regions of Maine.

“Addicts are lawbreakers, yes, but they are sick people,” said Rep. Ann Perry, D-Calais. If they are arrested and put in jail, they will soon be back out on the street, she said. “If we treat this addiction, we won’t fill our jails up.”

Since Perry’s bill was enacted after last year’s legislative session, a reporting network has been set up to flag people who may be addicted to drugs like OxyContin, morphine and anti-anxiety medication valium.

Pharmacists must send the state reports on prescriptions they fill for certain scheduled drugs. The information goes into a database programmed to identify people who appear to be getting too many prescriptions for those drugs.

The program, for instance, flags cases in which a person went to several doctors and got prescriptions from multiple pharmacies, said Kim Johnson of the office of substance abuse in what became Maine’s new Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday.

That information in turn is to be shared with doctors.

“The purpose of the prescription monitoring program is to provide better patient care, which includes getting into substance abuse treatment when it is appropriate,” Johnson said.

Perry, co-founder of a group called Neighbors Against Drug Abuse, or NADA, said the law formalizes a communication process that’s been going on for a long time between doctors and their local pharmacists about patients who have come in for prescriptions.

She was prompted to submit her bill after seeing the effects of drug addiction and abuse, such as the presence of hepatitis C “at a much more prevalent level than I’d seen it before.”

More than 10 percent of the drug cases closed by the state attorney general’s office in 1998-99 involved prescription drug, but the number more than doubled to 21 percent in 2001-02, according to Attorney General Steven Rowe.

While the monitoring program formally started Thursday, druggists will begin collecting data on July 30. Succeeding reports will be filed on the 15th and 30th of each month, Johnson said.

Consultants hired by the state to maintain the data system must then work bugs out and test the system, and information is expected to be available to doctors in October, Johnson said.

The new law says prescription monitoring information is confidential and is not a public record. The data will be available to prescribers, dispensers, patients, those who maintain the electronic system and officials for state medical licensing boards.

Maine’s new Health and Human Services Department was created by merging the Department of Human Services and the Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services.

On the Net:

Maine Public Laws (Chapter 483): Contents.htm

AP-ES-07-01-04 1452EDT

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