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Drug tracking system essential

Privacy concerns are real, but it should be possible to curb abuse

When the 2005 Legislature convenes in January, its to-do list ought to include getting a handle on the misuse and abuse of prescription pain medication, especially methadone.

Known to most people primarily for helping addicts wean themselves off heroin by controlling withdrawal symptoms, methadone is also a highly effective painkiller, and is frequently prescribed for that purpose.

Like other drugs,it is subject to abuse, sometimes with fatal consequences. It is easy to overdose on methadone because it takes more than a pain-killing dose to produce a sense of euphoria, and because it remains in the system much longer than other drugs. That half life varies from person to person.

In 2002, methadone killed 103 people in Oregon. Heroin killed 101.

That makes methadone the state's deadliest drug. But it's also one of the most useful for intractable pain. Its lack of euphoric effect allows those who use it properly to lead normal lives. And it's far less expensive than the other drugs available.

So what's to be done?

— The 2003 Legislature considered a bill that would have directed the state Board of Pharmacy to create a statewide database of narcotic prescriptions. But flaws in the legislation drew opposition from physicians, the American Civil Liberties Union and even conservative lawmakers.

The bill would have allowed law enforcement officers to get prescription records on anyone they wished without a warrant. That's a serious infringement on the privacy of Oregonians, the vast majority of whom are not drug abusers looking to scam the system.

Still, it ought to be possible to craft legislation that will allow doctors and pharmacists to weed out drug abusers looking for an easy fix while protecting the privacy of most patients who use pain killers.

Pharmacists say they plan to bring in everyone who is affected by the misuse of prescription narcotics and come up with a measure everyone can support in the 2005 session.

Lawmakers should support that effort, and they should make it a priority to pass a bill next year.

Plan for the worst

Ashland is making plans to safely evacuate people in the event of wildfire in the watershed above Siskiyou Boulevard. Other Southern Oregon communities might want to consider similar steps.

Ashland, nestled beneath the mountains in the south end of the valley, obviously is in need of evacuation routes in case of a fire in the wildland-urban interface zone between housing development and the forest lands surrounding the city.

The need for such a plan is less obvious in communities on the valley floor. But there are some areas where a community evacuation plan might be appropriate. For instance, much of the developed land on the flanks of Medford's Roxy Ann Peak could be endangered if a wildfire were to break out there.

Talent, Phoenix, Jacksonville and some other communities such as Gold Hill, Rogue River and Grants Pass also have areas that could be vulnerable in a major wildfire. Communities should assess their wildland-urban interface zones to determine if they need such response teams and evacuation plans.