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Tracking abuse is no simple task

Tracking abuse is no simple task

Jim Roberts would like to see the state crack down on doctors who write too many prescriptions for methadone and other narcotic pain medicines.

Anybody can go anywhere and get anything they want if it's a legal drug, says the White City man, whose son, Mike, died of a methadone overdose in April.

It sickens me to see how easy it is to get these drugs.

People who work with pain medicines and those who use ' or abuse ' them say it's not as easy as it might seem to control access to potentially lethal drugs.

Addiction is always with us, says Dr. Jim Shames, medical officer for Jackson County. This (methadone abuse) is just another form it takes.

— Physicians say they can spot most people who are trying to obtain drugs they don't really need, but some people sneak through despite doctors' best efforts.

I've been fooled, says anesthesiologist Dr. Erich Weber. I've definitely been fooled.

Pharmacists notice people who bring them too many prescriptions for pain medicines, but most doctor shoppers are smart enough to use several different pharmacies.

Punishing a person who provides a lethal dose of drugs to someone else is difficult because the key witness is dead, says Lt. Dewey Patten of the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

Nevada, Idaho and other states have created a centralized database to track narcotic prescriptions. A copy of every narcotic prescription goes to the agency that collects the data, which helps to identify doctor shoppers and people who abuse prescription narcotics.

Oregon pharmacists brought that idea to the Legislature in 2003, but the proposal drew criticism from physicians and civil liberties groups.

Senate Bill 690 would have given the state Board of Pharmacy responsibility to maintain the database. The Oregon Medical Association opposed the bill because it infringed on patient confidentiality.

Anybody who had any reason to have a prescription for any (controlled) drug could be kept track of, says OMA spokesman Jim Kronenberg.

Kronenberg says physicians also balked at the notion of extra paperwork on top of the mountain of forms they already have to complete.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon opposed the proposal because it would have created a database full of sensitive information and handed it to pharmacists who would not necessarily have any experience in managing it.

We're concerned about any agency creating databases, says Andrea Meyer, ACLU Oregon's legislative director.

Meyer says civil libertarians did not like a provision that would have given the pharmacy board authority to release information about patients to law enforcement agencies without a warrant or probable cause.

Meyer characterized the proposal as wholly inconsistent with the privacy that Oregonians cherish.

It's not the role of the state to collect private information and act like Big Brother, she says.

Arguments like those carry little weight with Jim Roberts, even though he acknowledges his son bears responsibility for ingesting the drugs that took his life.

We're frustrated, he says. We don't know how to fight this. You just get frustrated and want to throw your hands up and quit.

Pharmacists plan to rework their proposal for the 2005 session of the Legislature, says Gary Schnabel, director of the Board of Pharmacy. They've recruited representatives from all the groups that are touched by doctor shopping and drug seekers to try to craft a bill everyone can support.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492, or e-mail